A Poem Takes on New Meaning

I was perusing an anthology of American poetry when I encountered a poem, “Degrees of Gray in Philipsburg,” by my favorite American poet, Richard Hugo. I knew the poem well, and never tire of reading it.

I read it again and the poem exploded off the page into new meaning and relevance. It is a poem written almost a half century ago about the bitterness, intransigence and near death of a rural town.

The poem was probably true back then, although I had no first hand adult knowledge of American small towns from that era.

In the second stanza, the first two lines read:

The principal supporting business now is rage…

That’s because everything the small town used to know and do had gone away and the residents had to blame someone or some thing.

The principal supporting business now is rage…

Rage about sums up a large part of cultural life in rural towns in America, a rage fanned by Fox News, Trump, hate radio, locally elected officials, and often the churches.

And I would know because I lived in a typical rural town for four years not too long ago and rage was everywhere.

I read the poem again and wondered how such towns ever rid themselves of rage. I really have no idea. Have they always been that way? Is there a happy small town in the nation today?