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IOWA Magazine | September 2018
Emerging Poet
WRITERS' VOICES | STORIES FROM THE WRITING UNIVERSITY

Austin Hughes is a senior from Arlington, Texas, pursuing a double major in English (creative writing) and Japanese, as well as a minor in theatre arts. An intern for the International Writing Program and The Iowa Review, he recently became one of 18 undergraduates in the country to receive the prestigious Beinecke Scholarship for graduate studies in the humanities and was also a participant in the 2018 Bucknell Seminar for Undergraduate Poets.

Attracted to the UI by its strong undergraduate English program and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Hughes says his time in Iowa City has been life-changing, in part because of the literature he's encountered. At an event he organized for the English Society, award-winning UI English professor Robyn Schiff (99MFA) read her poem "Rapid Fire Colt Revolver," and her work was so unique, strange, and new to Hughes that it changed his perspective about the craft. "I'm still trying to find words to describe what it was like," says Hughes. "While I was listening to her read, all these factors of my life went off at one moment. I think I was just recognizing what poetry could be."

Hughes' writing attempts to capture a sense of his self in the sometimes-frenetic environment of a university. His poem "Similes," an homage to Sylvia Plath's "Metaphors," was published by The Iowa Review and won the inaugural David Hamilton Undergraduate Creative Writing Prize. The poem attempts to describe its author in a litany of similes, each discarded and enthusiastically replaced by another, reflecting his experience as a person in a dynamic flux. Hughes writes:

or perhaps I'm
just as Adam's other, far less fruit-
ful bones: a digit, vertebrae, or
even his skull—then again, maybe
like a melon smashed open and oo-
zing red—

Hughes also looks to the UI campus for inspiration. "Of Pentacrest", he says: "I've always thought it was a beautiful sight of the campus, but last summer during a particularly moving sunset, the germ for the poem found me, and I wound up writing a poem in which the speaker's imagination warps the Pentacrest's beauty."

After undergraduate study, Hughes plans to pursue both teaching and research abroad—seeking to earn an M.A. in Japanese studies and an M.F.A. in creative writing. Hughes says he's a big planner and control freak, but that writing is something he can't fully plan for, nor control. He says his poems resist him and seem to have a mind of their own. And that's why he says writing is so valuable to him, at least for now.

"I think for me what it means to be a writer is someone who can't help but do it, someone who needs to do it," says Hughes. "It's not that I don't think that I'm that person, but I won't really know until I'm out of this particular setting. When I'm not in this City of Literature, what will happen to me? Am I going to continue to feel this spur to write?"


A selection of Hughes’ work:


Pentacrest

The horizon is a strained rainbow,
the twilight colors effacing themselves
to far, bathyal blues. The wind rushes
around me; it is both the noise
of approach and departure as
the earth turns me away, away and to.
The blues have already begun to go

away too. A China wall of clouds is poised,
coming, in the east:
a glacial suspended on god strings
invisible as a cat's fickle whisker.
Still, the sun is still
spewing beyond sight. Lingering
to here, like small hell swelled in a Little Boy's

plunge. There, the wild, sickle moon snickers
from its perch stuck up above. The danger is
sparse there, but here, the half dark environs
all beneath that black wink. Here,
I
stand under a belljar of
limestone and Babylonian whore gold.
Its cupola flares
as the street lamps flicker

their buggy light, flashing shadows,
shadows over my form like great static.
Embraced—a man and woman are supine,
watching the sky bend its colors from the sod,
the blades clinging to their bodies.
They do not know where they are
coming to. The wind blows

bushes of ramrod-
petunias into a white squabble.
I hear the hushed squalls; they bring lightning
bugs forth from the darkness
to gleam, gleam, gleam.
No—these are far dragons in a black sea,
Burning their bodies for gods.


The Lotus

(on the Chicago Art Institute's Kannon Bosatsu statue)

Slightly squatted and arched forward,
She makes an offering of nothing—

Lotus lost: Her upturned palms
as empty as a dial tone—

two exes for rejection
in the lines of Her hands;

I read Their creases and see
my future:

my upturned palms as empty
and expectant as a beggar's

as I am stooped, doubled over,
and shrunken before the triptych

of each crafted lotus-layer pedestal
she stands and judges upon

with no moon, arrow, nor 10 additional faces—
just one Smiling Buddha

with a bomb in her possession—
a mysterious package on which I

train my eyes to defuse and diffuse
the esoterica thereof,

in hopes of preventing its fallout
despite knowing it already fell out

of Her hands centuries ago somewhere
between Her creation and Her cross-hemispherical

journey from Japan to Chicago over which
its polychrome integument

was torn away by fate, revealing the weak wood
of the flower beneath and exposing salvation

to the weathering of all Pandora's free rein
ills-how could She have been so careless?

Even I knew as a child not to open
a tinseled Christmas present before it was time—

but it wasn't really a box She opened;
it was a funerary jar,

a pithos used for storing grain
that Erasmus imagined was one in the same

despite locked boxes barring
the inside from the outside

and the outside from the in
while jars are only a smash away

from the discovery of its contents;
Meanwhile the hushed rumble of a shaken

Christmas gift betrays nothing
Except its something,

the sound of evils and hope turning
over one another surreptitiously,

silently; she should have just shaken the jar,
it was a gift after all,

which is why even upon seeing all wrong,
she could not help but keep the hope

at the bottom for herself—
how else could we account for the discrimination

of deliverance when I am delivered
nothing at this exhibit;

She can only ask and ask and ask—
a Careless Atlas

volleying between this world
and the next in unseeable arches

with cupped hands
reminiscent of two halves of the same galaxy

that still ask for more life—
so I walk away from Her.


Sonnet

Bower-bird! You pollock, stud, and bloom your hovel. Holden, held: the firesale rainbow your invite. Lonely corridor. You don't even have your doors.
Bower-bird! You pollock, stud, and bloom your hovel. Holden, held: the firesale rainbow your invite. Lonely corridor. You don't even have your doors.
Bower-bird! You pollock, stud, and bloom your hovel. Holden, held: the firesale rainbow your invite. Lonely corridor. You don't even have your doors.
Bower-bird! You pollock, stud, and bloom your hovel. Holden, held: the firesale rainbow your invite. Lonely corridor. You don't even have your doors.

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