Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Michael Hudson
Dear Editor,

I was delighted to see Poetry devote so much space not only to Heather McHugh’s essay on Vesalius, but also to several generously sized reproductions of the anatomist’s work [“The Fabric: A Poet’s Vesalius,” December 2007]. But after I started reading McHugh’s riff, my initial enthusiasm began peeling away like the guts and muscles from one of those Renaissance cadavers.

It is very difficult to make headway through the piece since so much of the time McHugh spins her wheels trying to be funny or clever. At least half the essay consists of bad puns: “whose flesh is calving from their lower legs” and “meanwhile the shovel’s head (what bites the dust) is peculiar.” It’s just one rimshot after another. Even McHugh’s naughty bits don’t work: to be told that “for all his bones” a skeleton can’t “ever again have a boner” was, by the time I got to it, exactly what I was afraid she was going to say.

When not straining for the comical, McHugh was occasionally 
able to be clear, meaningful, and even witty. For instance, that “Lothario’s moustache” observation she made about the dissected head was wonderful. But most of the time the good stuff is lost in a blur of imprecise language; as McHugh herself states in the piece, “the semantics are antic; the syntax attacked.” Indeed. After cutting my way through the blubber of puns, half-puns, relentless alliteration, and heedless grammatical complexity, I found that basic sense had often been flensed right off the bone, leaving a skeleton of meaning 
as misshapen and defective as the Elephant Man’s.

Wonderful illustrations, however.

Fort Wayne, Indiana

Originally Published: January 28, 2008

Poetry is looking for thought-provoking responses to work published in the magazine, as well as letters that raise new questions about the state of contemporary poetry. To send us your letter, please fill out all the fields below.

If we choose to use your letter, we will notify you by phone. If you have not heard from us within two weeks of sending your letter, you may assume we will not be using it. All letters may be edited for length and clarity, and may appear online, in print, or both.

Please do NOT send poetry submissions to this account. See Submission Guidelines for further information and policies regarding poetry submissions.

   Cancel

* All fields are required

MORE FROM THIS ISSUE

This prose originally appeared in the February 2008 issue of Poetry magazine

February 2008

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.