Let’s be crass at the outset. A half a million dollars. Five hundred thousand bucks-- in quarterly installments of $25,000 for five years.That is enough security to stop a sculptor of stanzas in her tracks, but there is no question that it will most likely just help the iconoclastic poet Heather McHugh to keep on keeping on. (Editor’s note: Short story writer Deborah Eisenberg, 63, another iconoclast and icon. has also received a MacArthur and will be profiled in the coming days.) No doubt, for McHugh (seen at right in a photo by David Belisle) that keeping on will involve staying one or two steps ahead of anyone who wants to figure her out.
A news story about the MacArthur grants said she’s “a poet known for her syntactical twists.” The grant press release described her as “a poet whose intricately patterned compositions explore various aspects of the human condition and inspire wonder in the unexpected associations that language can evoke." Another said she was known for puns.
Try as they might, reductionist descriptions of a woman who entered Harvard at age 16, running from a rural Virginia home life of outhouses and parents on the outs with one another, will only help to obscure the view of her. Because she does not want to be understood.
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