#SummerReads #3: Heather McNaugher

This summer, my goal is to read ten poetry collections. Click on the summerreading2015 tag to chart my progress.

I first encountered Dr. Heather McNaugher at an open house for Chatham University’s MFA program, where I ultimately decided to study. I never had the occasion to take one of her classes–and I’m really sad about that, especially after (finally) reading her poetry.

As part of my goal to read ten poetry collections this summer, I read all three of her books:

  • Panic & Joy (2008)
  • System of Hideouts (2012)
  • Double Life (2014)

McNaugher writes brutally honest poems that explore gender, identity, place, and love. Her language is sharp and pointed, and she isn’t exactly kind to herself. I love the brutality of this honesty, and the way she turns it into something funny and beautiful.

Failures or faults in relationships are a common theme. Throughout the three collections, poems examining these failures are frequent. Like this poem in Sleet Magazine.

I love the way that “If” builds toward a simple, but devastating conclusion: if this, and if this, and “If you had told me that this would be my story I’d have said, another round please.”

These poems, including the one quoted above, don’t condemn love for the pain it causes. Instead they document the mistakes the narrator has made, with the implied advice, “Don’t do what I did. Or if you do, at least be self-aware enough to poke fun at yourself.”

Even a poem about a new washer and dryer is really about growing up and what it means to be a single woman.

These are all poems I want to return to, because I know I’ll excavate more meaning out of them each time I read them.

I’m all about supporting local writers, so if you have a few dollars to spare, please consider purchasing one of Dr. McNaugher’s books. If you’re strapped for cash, all three are available for free from the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

(Full disclosure: the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh is my employer, but they did not suggest or request that I make that plug.)


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