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- Published on Amazon.com
Eyeshot. Earshot. Snapshot. I shot. Eyes shot. eYes... hot. Heather McHugh's latest book is--aye--hot. Written toward a readership as enamored with language as she, Eyeshot (exa)mines language at the level beneath ordinary diction for its twinkling possibilities, its intersections, its coincidences. McHugh's poetry recognizes (and flowers forth from) root alphabetic patterns and cadences in the music of her own speech: puns, anagrams, homonyms, iambs, internal and end rhymes, words spelled backwards that make other words, words contained within other words, words suggested by other words. Pupils. Blind dates. An "eye-gulp" (seen in a flash as "eye-plug"). As lush and seductive as the "purple burning overspill[ing]/ the porch-side torches of the lilac," McHugh's voice at once defies boundaries and leverages traditional form to accentuate sound, sight, and meaning.
In fact, she seems just as interested in what the eye and ear can do with language--how they receive and process linguistic information through distortion, dissection, truncation, and recombination--as with the understandings that emanate organically from such radically experimental seeing and hearing. Her poems are not self-consciously epiphanic, rather exploratory, inquisitive, ironic, and progressive in the most literal sense: that is, they arrive at meaning through a progression of linguistic play and connections. For example, the simple phrase "You're your/ own owner, no?" opens into much more than a cute case of phonic repetition and reversal, where the ghosted "know"--do you know yourself?--inherits its semantic weight from the visual and aural convergences in these two lines.
While many of her poems deal seriously with such themes as love, displacement, and death, humor is the overarching characteristic that sustains McHugh's elaborate project: "Somebody spell us! Help!" Accident and absurdity seem to govern her universe. Bird calls are deciphered in the most outlandish ways: "Potato chips!", "Who cooks for you?" and "Quick, quick, give me the raincheck!" And who else would address a brain in a jar, outrageously, as "O single-minded/ one!" Still, McHugh's work remains grounded in poignant moments of arrival, where "on the one hand... in the scheme of things we matter/ marvelously little; on the other,... we are// the scheme of things."