Richard Hugo (Richard Franklin Hugo) Biography
(1923–82), (Richard Franklin Hugo), A Run of Jacks, The Death of the Kapowsin Tavern
American poet, born in an impoverished district of Seattle; he saw wartime service in the US Air Force then studied at the University of Washington with Theodore Roethke, an important early influence. After working for the Boeing Company, Hugo became director of the Writing Program at the University of Montana from 1964 until his death. Very much a regionalist, whether writing of his native Pacific north-west or his adopted Montana, he nevertheless employed a fictive rather than a literal approach. A Run of Jacks (1961) and The Death of the Kapowsin Tavern (1965) have a hard, somewhat isolated masculine stance counterpointed by a rich imagery of natural beauty, as in his much-admired poem ‘Duwamish’, about a boy wandering beside a trout stream. Roethke's legacy is also evident in the formal qualities of sound and rhythm which greatly enhance the slow interior drama of Hugo's best work. This is exemplified by ‘Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg’, from The Lady in Kicking Horse Reservoir (1973), also typical in its viewing of a small, dismal town as a wider symbol of personal and psychological tension. The poems in 31 Letters and 13 Dreams (1977), written in the aftermath of Hugo's need to seek treatment for alcoholism, address friends such as Denise Levertov and James Wright from specific towns, on a journey in search of self-reconciliation. His final poems are in Making Certain It Goes On: The Collected Poems of Richard Hugo (1984). A work of autobiography, The Real West Marginal Way, also appeared posthumously in 1986. The best criticism of Hugo's achievement is We Are Called Human (1982) by Michael S. Allen.