Biography of Richard Hugo
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 writer for Boeing.
In 1961 his first book of poems, A Run of Jacks, was published. Soon after he took a teaching job at the University of Montana. His wife returned to Seattle in 1964, and they divorced soon afterwards. He published five more books of poetry, a memoir, a highly respected book on writing, and also a mystery novel. His posthumous book of collected poetry, Making Certain It Goes On, evinces that his poems are marked by crisp, gorgeous images of nature that often stand in contrast to his own depression, loneliness and alcoholism. Although almost always written in free verse, his poems have a strong sense of rhythm that often echoes iambic meters. He also wrote of large number of informal epistolary poems at a time when that form was unfashionable.
Hugo was a friend of poet James Wright.
Hugo’s The Real West Marginal Way is a collection of essays, generally autobiographical in nature, that detail his childhood, his military service, his poetics, and his teaching.
Hugo once remarked that “(In the poem) the fact that ‘suicide’ sounds like ‘cascade’ is infinitely more important than what is being said."
Hugo remarried in 1974 to Ripley Schemm Hansen. In 1977 he was named the editor of the Yale Younger Poets Series.
Hugo died of leukemia on October 22, 1982.
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for Hank and Nancy
Seven thousand acres of grass have faded yellow
from his cough. These limp days, his anger,
legend forty years from moon to Stevensville,
lives on, just barely, in a Great Falls whore.
Cruel times, he cries, cruel winds. His geese roam
unattended in the meadow. The gold last leaves
of cottonwoods ride Burnt Fork creek away.