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To Measure a Dream with a Ruler: Collected Sonnets by Michael Hough

“I learned long ago that the place for a poet in this society was up on stage with a guitar.”

So says Michael Hough, a multi-talented artist in Ann Arbor, Michigan. For most of his adult life, Michael has been half of the folk group, Mustard’s Retreat. He and his partner in rhyme and music, David Tamulevich, have been entertaining audiences throughout the country for more than three decades. One of the features of Mustard’s Retreat concerts has been “The Sonnet Song.” This is a pretty melody that David plays on mountain dulcimer while Michael recites an original sonnet. The tune is always the same, but the sonnet changes.

An English teacher in high school inspired Michael to write his first sonnet at age fifteen. Since then, he has written scores of sonnets, testing and refining many of them on stage. Due to popular demand from his fans, Michael collected the sonnets he has written in more than thirty years into a volume called, To Measure a Dream with a Ruler: Collected Sonnets. In this volume the reader will find fifty-one sonnets. But wait, there’s more!

As mentioned earlier, Michael is multi-talented. He not only knows his way around playing a bass guitar, singing, and songwriting, he is also a photographer. In the second edition of To Measure a Dream…, he has added some of his artistic photography to reflect the themes from the poetry and from his life.

In this collection, the reader can see a progression in the man and his art. Michael has arranged his sonnets by date originally written. With a wink at the practice of cataloguing sonnets using Roman numerals, Michael has numbered many of his sonnets in the same manner. But here they are not purely a sequential index. Instead, they are the age he was when he wrote the poem. The reader can start the book at “XVI Reveille” through “XLVII: A Resolution of Something.” After age 47, Michael dropped that convention. The joke had gone far enough.

While Michael writes many of his sonnets about love, there are also poems about running with his dog, camping out, being a traveling musician, dealing with his father’s death, being a father and grandfather, a visit from The Hag, and other aspects of life. While there are a few written from another person’s perspective, such as “Diana’s Comet,” most are very personal. In reading these sonnets, one sees slices of Michael’s life through the years. One also sees his dog go from a new puppy to an old dog with failing hips.

early run

a dark night slowly turning toward day
with snowflakes sifting on a fitful wind.
its searching fingers cold right to my skin
i run to warm myself. the old dog plays
in snowy darkness slowly giving way.
with cardinals chipping from the feeder post
and deer drifting across the road like ghosts
no dawn this morning, only shades of gray.

my steps tamp down the snow. we know the way.
i love my dog, she loves to run.  she hurts
but runs boldly, her head up and alert
to sniff and seek and find and never stray.
i run for joy.  There is no prize, no race,
just me, my dog, the wind and a goodly pace.

The book is an invitation to review the author’s life in glittering glimpses that include Michael’s quirky sense of humor and imagination.

One also sees the progress of the art. Starting from a perfectly conforming Shakespearean sonnet written in fourteen lines, over the years Michael played with the rhyme schemes and line breaks to produce a wide variety of poems. Recently, he also started experimenting with adding a single haiku to the end of the sonnet as a tail. For people seriously interested in structural analysis, To Measure a Dream… is a treasure-trove of possibilities.

According to Michael, he is presently working on making To Measure a Dream… available through Mustard’s Retreat’s Website. The price will be $15 including shipping. In case he hasn’t added this book to the Website at the time this review is published, the reader should also be able to contact him through the same site.

To Measure a Dream with a Ruler: Collected Sonnets, Second Edition, Yellow Room Gang, 2005. Available through Mustard’s Retreat’s Website.

This originally was published in Poetry Renewal magazine.

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