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Upgraded to Serious

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  71 ratings  ·  18 reviews
Heather McHugh presents a fast-paced, verbally dexterous, and brilliantly humorous book. Utilizing medical terminology and iconography to work through loss and detachment, McHugh’s startling rhymes and rhythms—along with her sarcastic self-reflection and infectious laughter—serve as antidotes to the sufferings of the world. Being “upgraded to serious” from critical conditi ...more
Hardcover, 82 pages
Published November 1st 2009 by Copper Canyon Press (first published September 1st 2009)
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Zara Raab
High Marks

McHugh’s first book, Dangers, published a decade after she entered Harvard at 17 to study with Robert Lowell, uses the virtuoso word play, double meanings, punning, the skillful use of syncopated rhythms and rhyming, the aphorisms, the satire, wit and brevity that epitomize her verse throughout her career, no matter the subject, though her subjects are usually prescient, pertinent to our lives, or both, and rarely conceited. In Dangers, she tackled the social-sexual-political issues o
James Murphy
It took me a long time to begin to connect with these poems. I was over halfway through the book before they began to make sense. But eventually they took some shape. They never fail to be interesting, unusual reading, however. One or two are lovely. My favorite is a poem about family dogs. It's funny, and I liked very much that its rhymes were mid-line rather than at the end. Gets your attention, that does.
Heather McHugh knows how to twist the twine until each word is wrung turning agape (as in tongue hanging out) with an underpining of Greek "agape" -- for the love of God, used, intermittently in different ways, as outcry whether in the Thou ( dime a dozen)( Thous and... ) by the thousand, or doubted as sceptic in skip to my lou, and No attached to a placebo.

She took on "sight" with Eyeshot... and has not stopped eyeing what is serious about our critical condition. As in perhaps critical thinking
The more poetry I read, the more confused I am.
McHugh's macabre or irreverent subject matter combined with her humor and extensive use of technical jargon is fascinating and bewildering.

Some of her poems I look at and blink and just flat out don't get.
Some of them I can nod and say "ok, I follow this. cool."

She's skilled, but crazy.
Most artists are, I guess.
Sometimes I'll hear a foodie talk about their love of flavors on the palate -- that's how I felt reading this book. McHugh plays around with language. Her selection of words has incredible texture, the cleverness makes every line like a playful game, and the dizziness you're left with from the linguistic acrobats is only validated by their subject matter (in this book it happens to be the topic of loss, in various forms).

I can't wait to read her other books. These poems certainly won't be to eve
Curtis Bauer
I'll have to reread this book, just as I had to reread each poem a few times before going on to the next. I always feel like I'm missing something with McHugh's later work; the poems are tight with knowledge: even the sounds are important, the pauses, the space. Toward the end of the book there's a little gem that speaks to this:


Through petri dishes'rings
life is transmogrified. When we
look into things, we see

there's space inside.

Space, but also looking is important to McHugh; her ga
Tight and intensely clever. Sometimes too much of each. But dazzling: so many times in one poem, meanings will spin out wildly, then the whole thing will pull itself back in and land on a dime.

In the middle of a storm ("Recurrent Dream") there'll be the perfectly sane and brilliant aside: "...she learned / new nouns. Much didn't match: / the stern, for example, so inviting, / and the bow so angry."

Harrowing portrait of regret: "Not to be Dwelled On"
Teasing modernity: "Webcam the World"
Poetry this clever can be a pain. But then McHugh has a heart too. The poems questioning God are my favorites. They remind me of a modern version of Cowper or is it Herbert? I would say if McHugh wanted to she could start a neo-metaphysical school of writing.
Heather McHugh's command of the English language is staggering, but her poems sometimes become tangled in meaning for the pure joy of sounds and word construction. Read them for the play they create as much as for the concept they envision, and you will be enriched.
I bought this without realizing it was by the author of The Father of the Predicaments, which is a good thing, because I remember not liking that book much... but I like this one, quite a bit!
Heather McHugh uses language like no other poet. Her writing is so original that when I read these it was like reading another language, but a language that was still English.
Kevin Fanning
Felt like the focus was on clever word play. Kept getting distracted from whatever the poems were actually about.
I'm drawn to the wittiness of the puns in the poems, but hooked by the intricate act of punning with sound.
Weird tangled poems with great wordplay, but the gist of things sometimes gets lost.
Kristen Hoggatt
Her lyricism is sometimes overwhelming but this book is a gem!
Siel Ju
Wry banter on death and loss with very smart wordplay.
Devin Becker
I'm liking it.
Apr 17, 2013 Ahk added it
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