Letter from Poetry Magazine

Letter to the Editor

by Michael Derrick 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

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

February 2008
 Michael Derrick Hudson


Michael Derrick Hudson lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where he works at the Genealogy Center of the Allen County Public Library. 

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