Igniting your need for words

From Richard Hugo’s The Triggering Town: Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing:

It doesn’t bother me that the word ‘stone’ appears more than thirty times in my third book, or that ‘wind’ and ‘gray’ appear over and over in my poems to the disdain of some reviewers. If I didn’t use them that often I’d be lying about my feelings, and I consider that unforgivable. In fact, most poets write the same poem over and over again. Wallace Stevens was honest enough not to try to hide it. Frost’s statement that he tried to make every poem as different as possible from the last one is a way of saying that he knew it couldn’t be.

So you are after those words you can own and ways of putting them in phrases and lines that are yours by right of obsessive musical need. You are trying to find and develop a way of writing that will be yours and will, as Stafford puts it, generate things to say. Your triggering subjects are those that ignite your need for words. When you are honest to your feelings, that triggering town chooses you. Your words used your way will generate your meanings. Your obsessions lead you to your vocabulary. You way of writing locates, even creates, your inner life. The relation of you to your language gains power. The relation of you to the triggering subject weakens.


Filed under diction or vocabulary, discovery, emotion, NOTED, poetry, working method

7 responses to “Igniting your need for words

  1. Thought-provoking quote, Richard. Intriguing concept that my inner life (inner writer?) might be throwing out clues to help me find it. The sentence, “Your triggering subjects are those that ignite your need for words” feels organically true. Interesting direction for my morning walk/rumination.

  2. I love the line “Your way of writing locates, even creates, your inner life.” Always worthwhile to read your posts, Richard. Thanks! Paulette

  3. I’ve never seen this passage before. And I think it’s so true. My obsessions are showing up again in the photos I took over the last two weeks: windows, doors, different textures up against one another… Pam Houston also writes about how we’re always telling the same story. Have you read the whole book, Lectures and Essays on Poetry and Writing?

  4. marilyn cram-donahue

    Richard, I love the words, “obsessive musical need.” That’s the way I feel about owning words, phrases, sentences. I need to feel the rhythm of a word, say it over and over, taste it, hear it.”
    Thanks also for the idea of “igniting your need for words.” Well said, indeed.


  5. Ann Hostetler

    That photo triggered a memory for me. Location?