Richard Hugo

Richard Hugo Biography

Richard Hugo (December 21, 1923 - October 22, 1982), born Richard Hogan, was an American poet. Primarily a regionalist, Hugo's work reflects the economic depression of the Northwest, particularly Montana. Born in White Center, Washington, he was raised by his mother's parents after his father left the family. In 1942 he legally changed his name to Richard Hugo, taking his stepfather's surname. He served in World War II as a bombardier in the Mediterranean. He left the service in 1945 after flying 35 combat missions and reaching the rank of first lieutenant.

Hugo received his B.A. in 1948 and his M.A. in 1952 in Creative Writing from the University of Washington where he studied under Theodore Roethke. He married Barbara Williams in 1952, the same year he started working as a technical w ...

Richard Hugo Comments

Jerry Znidler 28 September 2019

Most of the towns Richard wrote about were in Montana....." Degrees of Grey Philipsburg" being one of those fine poems.

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Paul Anthony Hutchinson 07 March 2018

The Letter to Kathy is my favourite poem.

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Michael Walker 21 January 2015

I like Hugo's poems set in the Pacific Northwest very much. you often imagine a man on his own driving around to remote, lost towns, which have seen better times. The car is a feature that I like in the poems. in the towns, you meet a few characters who are anonymous yet memorable too- like the prisoner and the red-haired waitress in 'Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg'. Richard Hugo's poems are full of life and vigour, written in a modern form.

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The Best Poem Of Richard Hugo

Degrees Of Gray In Philipsburg

You might come here Sunday on a whim.
Say your life broke down. The last good kiss
you had was years ago. You walk these streets
laid out by the insane, past hotels
that didn't last, bars that did, the tortured try
of local drivers to accelerate their lives.
Only churches are kept up. The jail
turned 70 this year. The only prisoner
is always in, not knowing what he's done.

The principal supporting business now
is rage. Hatred of the various grays
the mountain sends, hatred of the mill,
The Silver Bill repeal, the best liked girls
who leave each year for Butte. One good
restaurant and bars can't wipe the boredom out.
The 1907 boom, eight going silver mines,
a dance floor built on springs--
all memory resolves itself in gaze,
in panoramic green you know the cattle eat
or two stacks high above the town,
two dead kilns, the huge mill in collapse
for fifty years that won't fall finally down.

Isn't this your life? That ancient kiss
still burning out your eyes? Isn't this defeat
so accurate, the church bell simply seems
a pure announcement: ring and no one comes?
Don't empty houses ring? Are magnesium
and scorn sufficient to support a town,
not just Philipsburg, but towns
of towering blondes, good jazz and booze
the world will never let you have
until the town you came from dies inside?

Say no to yourself. The old man, twenty
when the jail was built, still laughs
although his lips collapse. Someday soon,
he says, I'll go to sleep and not wake up.
You tell him no. You're talking to yourself.
The car that brought you here still runs.
The money you buy lunch with,
no matter where it's mined, is silver
and the girl who serves your food
is slender and her red hair lights the wall.

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