Writer’s Voice Spotlight: Henry Hughes

The Chico State Writer’s Voice is proud to present acclaimed poet Henry Hughes.  Henry Hughes grew up on Long Island, New York, and has lived in Oregon since 2002. His poems have appeared in Antioch Review, Carolina Quarterly, Malahat Review, Southern Humanities Review, Seattle Review and Poetry Northwest, and are represented in several anthologies including Long Journey: Contemporary Northwest Poets, published by Oregon State University Press. His first collection, Men Holding Eggs, received the 2004 Oregon Book Award. His second book, Moist Meridian, was a finalist for the 2011 Oregon Book Award. He is the editor of the anthology, The Art of Angling: Poems about Fishing (Knopf, 2011) and his commentary on new poetry appears regularly in Harvard Review.

(courtesy of henryhughespoetry.wordpress.com)


Two things become clear when reading Henry Hughes. First, he is a writer of clarity and precision. Nowhere is this more evident than in his poetry dealing with the natural world, which is often concerned with not only the beautiful and miraculous, but nature’s less then desirables, such as opossums, grocery store whale meat, a Florida fish called the “Slippery Dick.” Take a look at “Opossum’s Creed,” a poem from his 2009 collection, Moist Meridian:


                        Opossum’s Creed


                        I believe in sleep, a dry burrow

                        Under stumps or peeling plywood

                        Night peaches, bread, corn, frogs,

                        fat worms and fat-free yogurt.

                        Clear water from the crotch of an oak.


                        I believe in the musky smell of opossum,

                        that crazed merge and heavy transformation.

                        Pink-pouched babies, suckling, clawing up my back,

                        or tail-hanging

                        from a mossy branch.


                        I believe in the dogs’ bay,

                        bulldozer and chainsaw, my mysterious breakdowns

                        and blackouts.  Gunshots,

                        headlights—the bloated buzzing rank

                        along the road.


                        This is what I’m given:

                        summer together, nosing the plump garden;

                        or alone

                        silvering the almighty moon.


                        So I sniff and lay a trail, dig, climb,

                        eat breed,

                        evolve.  What you believe

                        never occurs

                        to me.


The second noteworthy characteristic of Hughes’ work is that he is funny, often damn funny. He maintains the clarity of image and precision of language, but also, Hughes can really make you laugh. Just take the poem “In The Doghouse,” from his earlier, 2004 collection, Men Holding Eggs:


                        In The Doghouse


                        Once loved,

                        there’s the eternal quilted hill above the floor.

                        No mosquitoes, no rain.  Your antless dish

                        in the kitchen.  Until you slip-up―

                        chew the table leg, hump the wrong guest,

                        eat a cheesecake,



                        You’re in the dog house,

                        on that rusty chain of words bolted to a stud.

                        There’s a leafy wind, cat prints

                        pucker the sandy plywood floor.

                        You’re alone.  It’s damp.  Greasy fur pinched on a nailhead.

                        Sniff the corner, turn

                        and drop.  You’re not sorry,

                        you do your time.


Henry Hughes’ poetry seems imbued with an exuberance, from the somber to the sexual and from the natural world around us to the deepest reaches of our personal lives. As David Biespiel said in his review of Moist Meridian, “His poems display such a fine empathy for life and the living that when you are done reading you may find yourself cherishing humanity a little more.” 


You are strongly encouraged to see Henry Hughes read his poetry this Thursday, February 28th, at 7:30 p.m, Colusa 110.

Written by Stanley Upshaw