January 6, 2019

Tony Hoagland: Flying in the Face Of it All

Is poetry relevant in the current political climate or in the face of mass culture?  The late Tony Hoagland answered that question eloquently in the essay, "Mass Culture and the American Poet: The Poem as Vaccination" recently published in Gulf Coast Magazine:
The symptoms of our commercialized environment are familiar—a loss of fundamental contact with reality, an inability to think and feel clearly, a sense of proportion that is relentlessly invaded, destabilized and distorted. The end result is a sense of being both magnificently stimulated and trivialized, and an anesthetized condition of self that is, paradoxically, a radical kind of suffering. The problem we have inherited is a permanent one: how is it possible for the American poet to grapple with these aspects of mass culture, whose mind-bending presence is equal to any event in our private lives? How is it possible to include the marketplace in our report on the world, without being engulfed by it? Is irony sufficient? Will aloof superiority serve well enough?
Hoagland provides nice examples of how well poetry can rise to the challenge.  Read the essay at https://gulfcoastmag.org/online/blog/mass-culture-and-the-american-poet-the-poem-as-vaccination/

In a second essay "The Pursuit of Ignorance..." published in the New Ohio Review, Hoagland meditates on poetry's ability to articulate not knowing: Dante, Emerson, Transtromer, Merwin, and others. "The greatest human intellectual achievement of the twentieth century was the discovery of how fucking clueless we human beings are," he writes in the first sentence.  To read more, go to 

Hoagland himself was a master at creating poems that were pointed cultural critiques and also full of wit and compassion.  In his obituary in the NYTimes in October 2018, Neil Genzlinger wrote: "He found insights and imagery in the everyday: a pool in an Austin, Tex., park; a spaghetti strap on a woman’s dress that won’t stay put; an old man dying from too much Fox News. " Read this poem by Tony Hoagland, "Coming and Going," at  https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/coming-and-going

Tony Hoagland has several poetry books. These are some of my favorites titles:  Recent Changes in the Vernacular, Application for Release from the DreamWhat Narcissism Means to Me, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, and Donkey Gospel.  

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