Last week I read The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo, and

it changed my life.Triggering Town

Okay, that might be a little bold, but it was exactly what I needed. I’ve had the poet disease lately, and people can see. It’s not one of those diseases that hide in your immune system, or only show themselves during times of stress, exercise, bad eating… Hugo would argue that writing is “psychogenic,” and I might agree. People have been calling me out on it: you’re a poet!!!!, they say. It’s all over me.

The first piece of advice from the poets around me: read The Triggering Town. So last Saturday I sat down with my dog, a pot of coffee, Passenger from my iHome, my favorite olive green Le Pen, and this book. I think I underlined every sentence in the introduction…and then in the first chapter…and the next, and so on.

Among the countless reasons why I love this book is that doesn’t claim any authority over writing. He starts off the book with two poignant points:

I hope you’ll not take the book more seriously than it is intended. Some of it, though obviously not all, is written in a sense of play.


You’ll never be a poet until you realize that everything I say today and this quarter is wrong. It may be right for me, but it is wrong for you. Every moment, I am, without wanting or trying to, telling you to write like me. But I hope you learn to write like you.

Two beautiful ways to teach writing, saying: take what helps you, leave what doesn’t. What triggers something in you? While a lot of what he says in the book triggered something for my writing, a couple points really stuck out to me.

When something I read or hear triggers something in me, I try to work with it, sit with it, and mold it into my own. For this book, the nuggets of advice were more helpful than the exercises, or in depth decoding of language. So, I turned those “triggers” or “nuggets” into posters. (hint: click the images to enlarge them for readability).

As an undergraduate art major, design is so important to me — aesthetics in general, really. The way I view something on a page can aid in my understanding of it (perhaps why I currently have the poet disease, although I am quite the novice at line breaks). These posters, as Hugo said about Triggering Town, are play. I love experimenting with new typefaces and graphics to create image from text, to make text aesthetically pleasing.

I think it’s true of most things in life, that the more time you spend with something — be it a poem, a story, a person, a class, a place — the more you understand it.

In order to create these I had to 1) decide what sentences, paragraphs, chapters really triggered something in me, 2) decide what to emphasize, 3) decide how to emphasize it, and 4) what the text calls for in terms of color, type, accessory images, etc. I can’t always pinpoint the why for these decisions, but — armed with my experienced art critique weaponry of deciphering my own motives behind pieces on cue — ask me, and I’ll pick my own brain for the triggers!

Moral of the story: read The Triggering Town, take every piece of writing advice with a grain of salt, and if you are design-minded (i.e. like pretty things) don’t forget to use that as a trigger for your learning.

— BH

Like what you read? Visit my blog, too: beccahawkins.wordpress.com

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