Into These Knots

The poems of Into These Knots, Ashley Anna McHugh’s debut collection, glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven, interrogating and elucidating in elegant and supercharged speech ultimate questions and intimate foibles. With equal parts intelligence and passion, Ms. McHugh can quarrel with scripture or riff on the amorous pleadings of Andrew Marvell or the stark musings of Baudelaire. In “Cairns,” a brilliant sequence that plays with the boundaries of the sonnet, mountain hikes in rural West Virginia trace, among other things, the difficult pathways to the divine.

Ms. McHugh’s poems resound with a songlike intensity and an arresting voice entirely their own. Personal meditations on loss, and the need to reconcile with the past, ground this collection, even as the poems struggle against their precarious conclusions.

Skillfully crafted, the poems in Into These Knots capture a precise clarity of cadence, accompanied by an exacting attention to the intricacies of traditional verse. Their formal assurance lends a transformative control, a certain deliberateness, to the disordering events and emotions revealed. Frequently returning to their tonic chord of doubt, the poems never abandon their search for a lasting belief, an attainable transcendence, and, above all, the possibility of forgiveness.