Writing off the Subject

Read Summary

Richard Hugo’s essays Writing off the Subject” and “The Triggering Town” both emphasize the importance of allowing language to guide poetry writing, even if it means breaking from traditional subject matter or structure. In “Writing off the Subject,” Hugo encourages writers to let the music of language hold a poem together, even if it risks sentimentality. In “The Triggering Town,” he suggests that writers approach poetry like fiction, focusing on what feels accurate rather than what is accurate, and using the sounds of words to create beauty. Throughout both essays, Hugo creates a playful and informal relationship with his audience, encouraging them to break free from restrictive ideas and styles in order to write more creatively.”

Table of Content

Richard Hugo, in his essay “Writing off the Subject” (1992), asserts that in poetry writing, it is important that the music of language be allowed to hold a poem together even risking sentimentality. Hugo explains this concept by tackling the inverse of the title, describing vividly how to write around a poem in such a way that it is not smothered or milked dry, wherein the subject serves the words even if it means violating the facts.  His purpose is to persuade budding writers to write creatively without necessarily conforming to other writers’ style or bounded by a single idea or subject which can seriously limit a writer’s creativity. Hugo creates an informal relationship with his audience in a fun and lighthearted manner.

“The Triggering Town”

In the essay “The Triggering Town”, Richard Hugo (1992) encourages poetry writers to write poetry as one would write fiction, where a writer writes what feels accurate instead of what is accurate. As he usually does,  Hugo uses town to illustrate his idea, emphasizing the beauty for an almost impossible disconnect from the triggering subject and implying his preference for a word soup style of writing that ignores narrative and focuses on pretty sounds. Hugo speaks to would-be writers to learn to appreciate the sounds of words and use them generously in order to create beautiful poetry. He develops a rather fun relationship with his readers.

Works Cited

Hugo, R., 1992, “The Triggering Town: A Classic Book of Lectures and Essays on Poetry Writing”, Norton Press.

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Writing off the Subject. (2016, Dec 01). Retrieved from


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