The MacArthur "genius" poet Heather McHugh returns with her first collection in a decade, exploring uncertainty in the contemporary world in poems that are both pragmatic and theorizing, esoteric and identifiable.
Muddy Matterhorn, the poet’s ninth book of poetry and first book in over a decade, sends us wheeling through a vortex of strangeness...where high and low interchange in Dickinson-like reversals. Her words swerve sideways...and her thoughts proceed in sphinxlike complexity. When what’s in fashion for poets is to embrace straightforward narrative ... Readers familiar with the poet’s oeuvre will immediately recognize her appetite for getting the most word bang for word buck ... In this collection, though, her unusual impulses with language channel a deep sense of loss ... witty elevation is set against baser pleasures ... Bringing her off-kilter sensibility to environmental crisis...she exhibits gallows humor ... What I admire most about this collection is that McHugh demonstrates her genius with language in a non-elitist way. She is relatable, never writing from the lofty heights of the mountain, but walking alongside us, inviting us to play, to puzzle out the strangeness of language with her ... McHugh invites us to question what we think we know; her poems teach us to look again and beckon us to find the enigmatic wisdom in the messy highs and lows of living.
If you had only about a hundred pages from which to teach all of contemporary poetry, McHugh’s new collection would not be a bad place to begin. The multi-award-winner’s first book in a decade reflects her habit of reaching for whatever tool or material she needs—rhyme, meter, pared-to-the-bone imagism, or luxuriant abstraction—to get the work of each poem done. This breadth of style and skill allows her to range freely from difficult intellections to spit take worthy jokes without losing consistency of voice or perspective. But McHugh doesn’t demonstrate virtuosity for its own sake. These poems are consistently politically and socially aware ... McHugh’s wordplay is peerless. Poems rest in anagrams, palindromes, and neologisms like cremaindered, and the sonic pleasure of her riffs on assonance and slant rhyme delights the ear. This is a high-impact book that is impossible to exhaust.
McHugh’s poems can be biting and serious, even cerebral, but also riotously hilarious ... In a rich work that embraces life while pushing back on anything that restricts our reach, McHugh again proves herself to be a master poet.