Facing a world of mutually impinging processes, of which climate and economic systems are only the most worrisome, critics in several disciplines suggest that human actors reimagine our inevitable implication in plural, shifting, evolving networks. Steve Mentz suggests a model of buoyancy, a self-imagination in which we maneuver as swimmers might in seas immeasurably larger than ourselves. William Connolly develops a notion of “vitality,” understood as responsiveness to moments of transformation that exceed our conscious designs. Both suggest that dreams of mastery blind us to crosscurrents in enduring and evolving systems. Heather McHugh’s poems invite us to read not for the solace of masterable meaning but for the chance and risk of aleatory encounter and its unpredictable elaboration. Even in elegy, traditionally poetry’s moment of discursive mastery, her poems give full play to discontinuity and difference as the conditions of reading—not least the discontinuities in a historical and evolving language. Beyond elegy, McHugh’s poems invite the reading of generative accidents, a practice that has analogues in reading a plural and uncertain world.

You do not currently have access to this content.