Tony Hoagland’s Last Book

I just finished Turn Up the River,  written as he was dying of cancer, published posthumously. It has some terrific poems in it, including this one:

On Why I Must Decline To Receive The Prayers You Say You Are Constantly Sending

Because first of all, I have a feeling that they didn’t cost you anything,
and so I have to wonder: What is their actual market value?

For you, is the prayer like a radar-guided projectile
mounted on the hinged-together wings of several good intentions,
propelled by the flawed translation of a Rumi poem?

Anyway, my mailbox is already pretty much occupied for the season.
At the beginning of May a big mother wren started moving in,
one mouthful of straw and twig at a time.

For three days she flew in and out, in and out and in,
building a nest the size of a small soup bowl.
Then she sat on her eggs for two weeks, cooing and fluffing to keep them warm.
Then she was busy feeding her young.

I think the heat passing through that mother’s body into her brood
has already surpassed the endoplasmic vibrational voltage
you’ve mentioned as a feature of the prayers you are sending me.

I understand that you are doing your best
to hoist yourself up toward a spiritual life,
even if it is through the doorway of a kind of pretending.

But if you really care, as you claim, please
will you kindly sit down and work your shit out?
Stop stealing reality from the world
and replacing it with make-believe!

The newspaper says that poorly aimed prayers
are causing flat tires on I-25.

The sandalwood incense blowing across the valley
is already causing cab drivers a lot of allergies.

So sit still and just look at the colors of the changing sky.
And could you stop burning so many candles, please?

My god, think how many hours and hours and hours —
think of how hard those bees worked
to make all that wax!

A unique voice now quiet

I got the news that Tony Hoagland, a poet often featured here, lost his battle with pancreatic cancer yesterday. His partner sent out this message:




Tony Hoagland
November 19, 1953 – October 23, 2018
You’ll never be complete, and that’s as it should be.
Inside you one vault after another opens endlessly.
Don’t be ashamed to be a human being– be proud.

-Tomas Tranströmer




I’m  sad at the loss–here is a sample of why: Continue reading “A unique voice now quiet”

Into the Mystery

Here is the final poem from Tony Hoagland’s new book, Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God.

Into the Mystery

Of course there is a time of afternoon, out there in the yard,
a time that has never been described.

There is the way the air feels
among the flagstones and tropical plants
xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxwith their dark, leathery-green leaves.

There is a gap you never noticed,
dug out between the gravel and the rock, where something lives.

There is a bird that can only be heard by someone
who has come to be alone.

Now you are getting used to things that will not be happening again.

Never to be pushed down onto the bed again, laughing,
and have your clothes unbuttoned.

Never to stand up in the rear of the pickup truck
and scream while blasting out of town. Continue reading “Into the Mystery”

From Tony Hoagland’s new book

There is nothing to say about this poem–just buy the book.

The Age of Iron

When I see an ironing board
folded in the closet of a motel room,
and the iron resting like a sledgehammer on the shelf above,

I think of the Age of Iron
and my mother standing in the kitchen,
folding clothes on the green table,
a bottle if spray starch at her elbow, not even the radio on—

Continue reading “From Tony Hoagland’s new book”

Another by Tony Hoagland

TonyHoaglandHeadshotReading though poems this morning, trying to find one to post, I couldn’t resist this one. He’s got the jargon so perfectly. I especially like his description of “holding the fear inside/like a tipsy glass of water”:

And The Men

want back in:
all the Dougs and the Michaels, the Darnells, the Erics and Josés,
they’re standing by the off-ramp of the interstate
holding up cardboard signs that say WILL WORK FOR RELATIONSHIP.

Their love-mobiles are rusty.
Their Shaggin’ Wagons are up on cinderblocks.
They’re reading self-help books and practicing abstinence,
taking out Personals ads that say
xxxx “Good listener would like to meet lesbian ladies,
xxxx                              for purposes of friendship only.”

In short, they’ve changed their minds, the men:
they want another shot at the collaborative enterprise.
Want to do fifty-fifty housework and childcare;
They want commitment renewal weekends and couples therapy.

Because being a man was finally too sad—
In spite of the perks, the lifetime membership benefits.
And it got old,
telling the joke about the hooker and the priest

at the company barbeque, praising the vintage of the beer and
 xxxx  punching the shoulders of a bud
xxxx         in a little overflow of homosocial bonhomie—
Always holding the fear inside
 xxxx                 like a tipsy glass of water—

Now they’re ready to talk, really talk about their feelings,
in fact they’re ready to make you sick with revelations of
  xxxx                 their vulnerability—
A pool of testosterone is spreading from around their feet,
it’s draining out of them like radiator fluid,
like history, like an experiment that failed.

So here they come on their hands and knees, the men:
Here they come. They’re really beaten. No tricks this time.
xxxx         No fine print.
Please, they’re begging you. Look out.

Tony Hoagland

A hard rain

imageA friend asked me to show her a poem by Tony Hoagland that “hit it out of the park.”

I hope this qualifies:

Hard Rain

After I heard It’s a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall
played softly by an accordion quartet
through the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
then I understood: there’s nothin
we can’t pluck the stinger from,

nothing we can’t turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.
Even serenity can become something horrible
if you make a commercial about it
using smiling, white-haired people

quoting Thoreau to sell retirement homes
in the Everglades, where the swamp has been
drained and bulldozed into a nineteen hole golf course
with electrified alligator barriers. Continue reading “A hard rain”

Luckily for me

and my resolution to be more timely with Poetry Monday, a wonderful chapbook, “Little Oceans” by Tony Hoagland, arrived in the mail today.  I’ve posted his poems before, and some of these I’d read before, but I was so glad to spend a little time with his work, and his particular view of America that is piercing, unsparing, and doesn’t let any of us (including himself) off the hook.  Here’s a sample.


is not the beginning of a sentence
you hear often uttered in my household.
If she wants to make a career comeback
and her agent pushes her into the MTV awards show
but she can’t lose the weight beforehand

and so looks chubby in a spangled bikini
before millions of fanged, spiteful fans and enemies,
then gets a little drunk beforehand
so misses a step in the dance routine

making her look, one critic says,
like a “comatose piglet,”

well, it wasn’t by accident, was it?
that she wandered into that late 20th century glitterati party
of striptease American celebrity? Continue reading “Luckily for me”

Monday, Monday

A friend spent the night last night, and added to our breakfast conversation by reading aloud from the Monday Metropolitan Diary section of the New York Times:

“Practice, practice, practice may be the way to Carnegie Hall, but is it worth it if no one remembers your name, much less the hall itself?
Recently overheard from a couple settling into their seats behind me before a concert: “This is where we heard that guy play the piano, isn’t it?”

That’s the problem with fame in a nutshell!

Then Larry said that there was a place called The Royal Roost in New York where Charlie Parker, Dizzy, Miles, Kenny Durham and other jazz greats used to play that was nicknamed The Metropolitan Bopera House.

Then I got to the work of the morning. Every Monday I send a poem to a little group of poets who trade poems each week. We’ve been doing this almost 10 years now! We each have a day. Sometimes we send our poems, but most often a poem we’ve encountered that we like a lot. Today I sent out a poem by Tony Hoagland, one of my favorite poets.

I love the way he mixes humor and the overpowering emotions we each feel, how he takes a situation everyone can recognize—the desire to seduce someone—and elevates it. Then he brings us back to earth, reminding us that we live here, amid the base, confusing and overpowering passions, no matter how much we love literature.

The Collaboration

That was the summer I used The Duino Elegies
in all of my seductions,
taking Rilke from my briefcase

the way another man might break out
candlelight and wine.
I think Rilke would have understood,

would have thought the means
justified the end, as I began to read
in a voice so low it forced my audience

to lean a little closer,
as if Rilke were a limestone bench
stationed on a hillside

where lovers gathered to enjoy the vista
of each other listening.
What a chaperone,

and what a view—is it Susan
I am thinking of?—
how, in the middle of the great Ninth Elegy,

in the passage where the poet
promises to memorize the earth,
her tanned and naked knee

seemed the perfect landing platform
for any angels in the vicinity.
I think Rilke would have seen

the outline of an angel
in the space between our bodies
just before we kissed,

then seen it vanish
as we clashed together
and commenced our collaboration

on another chapter
of the famous, familiar and amusing
saga of human relations—choosing

heat instead of grace,
possession over possibility—trading
the kingdom of heaven

one more time
for two arms full
of beautiful, confusing earth.

This poem is from Sweet Ruin, like all of Tony’s books, worth owning! For those interested in poetics, his book of essays, Real Sofistikashun, is a treat.