Poet's Notes: Montana poet Richard Hugo wrote with reverence about alders and catfish (see Editor's Note). Literary scholars and critics contend that, for Hugo, alders and catfish are symbols of stubborn persistence and resilience in face of adversity. That could be true and probably is . . . but I know as a poet I’m not consciously in the business of loading my poems with figurative devices.
We do a disservice to students and other readers in perpetuating the notion that writers hide meaning inside complex tropes and that scholarly analysis is the only way to appreciate and understand a poem. Billy Collin’s poem “Introduction to Poetry” (see Editor's Note) humorously complains that too often we want to tie a poem to the chair and beat the meaning out of it with a rubber hose. That poem, too, is loaded with symbols, pretty strong ones, but first and foremost Billy Collins just wants us to laugh.
I’ll venture a guess that Hugo wrote about alders and catfish because they fascinated him, caught his imagination. He recognized their marvelousness, their unrecognized magnificence, and he wanted us to do the same.
A critic could make lots of deep psychological propositions about my poem “Bull-Headed.” Is it a poem about the father’s power and the son’s awe of his father? Or does the poem abstractly want the reader to philosophize upon the hidden inner workings of the wild? Or is it a poem simply and directly about a fish and a boy’s fascination to look upon a heap of guts and see a real heart still throbbing? It’s a praise poem, I think.
Editor's Note: Those interested in learning more about Richard Hugo may look here https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/2012/05/14/at-the-grave-of-richard-hugo/.
"Introduction to Poetry" by Billy Collins may be read here https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46712/introduction-to-poetry.
"Bull-Headed" was first published in The Alembic, How Quickly What's Passing Goes Past, and Verse Wisconsin.