“My One”: An Interview with Heather McHugh”

Heather McHugh is an American poet known for her rhetorical gestures and sharp puns.  She has published many poems and has a lot of experience in the field. She is also a professor at the University of Washington. One poetry collection, Hinge and Sign: Poems 1968-1993 (1994) was selected as a National Book Award Finalist and named a “Notable Book of the Year” by the New York Times. She has published eight books of poetry and has received many awards for them. Her quick sharp writing and whit drew me to her poetry

Grace Fay: What message were you trying to get across in “My One”?

Heather McHugh: My poems are not “getting messages across”— they are more closely analogous to dances..  they mean to move through passages of language, in hopes of dispensing with it. This particular poem engages in anagram and wordplay, partly to unearth subliminal forces at work in our constructions and quantifications of love. Rather than do your homework for you, I might ask you to imagine what VALUES might be at issue in a meditation or singsong that focusses on the coincidence inside a single word (namely, “money”) of a possessive pronoun (“my”) plus a number (“one”)? why might someone find more than one meaning in the word “company”?  is “possessiveness” a clue word?

GF: Was there something in your early life that made you want to become a poet?

HM: My parents fought – so I sought refuge in various nesting enclosures: my room, my desk area, my books, my radio, my head, etc.. but my parents also encouraged me in any early versophilias.

GF: Is there one specific thing that impacts all your poems?

HM: Language: its promise and its limitations.

GF: What do you most like to write about?

HM: I don’t write because I like it… I write because I can’t help it.

GF: If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring poets, what would it be?

HM: Don’t do it unless you can’t help it – and even then, don’t let anyone else see it until you have revised and revisited it on at least three separate days over at least two separate weeks.


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