McHugh, Heather: Muddy Matterhorn

McHugh, Heather: Muddy Matterhorn

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Copper Canyon Press (paperback, 05/26/2020)

Heather McHugh’s Muddy Matterhorn relinquishes [full stop]. As in, yes, an intransitive verb, no receptive object in sight—the makings of a peculiar sentence, an incomplete thought perhaps. This is a collection of adjustments refusing simple closures. It assumes we all know there’s an end, sure, yet revels in the shared incomprehension of it—the spirit and where it goes or doesn’t go. As elegy and as loss becomes hypervisible off the page, coming up against McHugh’s lines both soothes and re-energizes me.

Now, I’m attuned to life’s “lilt” and “tilt,” the lingering stuff. Now, I’m inclined to stay with and gaze into the cosmic trapped in the skies, trapped in a beloved’s eyes. Her quintessential stubbornness to not look away is present in every poem. Whether it’s staring at a glove, watching a dying dog, or a winding through self-reflection before bed, McHugh in these poems, manages to peacock her way through an unending utility for language. Her language is so honed, so refined yet, also, v loose as a goose—going into slang, coming out of metered rhyme...

In talking about McHugh poems, folks often remark about her blending of “the high” with “the low.” I had trouble tracking that sense here. More accurately, perhaps the high is instead a certain brand of hubris and humor. The low, an instinct toward adoration and casual encounters. Muddy Matterhorn, in all the ways to celebrate and lament the lives of humans, is somewhat of an orchestra at wits’ end, both menacing and playful. No, that’s not quite right either… Muddy Matterhorn, not the conductor’s high-handed stick, but the measuring foot and its tap-tap at the front of an utterly sincere and powerful song.

How changed I am after having read about her unique take on tactility. How charmed I am, having been made privy to a sense of touch I have no expression for other than what I’ve seen in these immense poems. The gifts of having memorized the eyes of a long life, holding the last grips before a last breath, beholding the strangeness of a stranger with reverence—all gifts with unique consequences. I love this book because you just can’t encounter poems like these anywhere else. Muddy Matterhorn takes nothing for granted.

--Jeric Smith