“Tony Hoagland’s imagination ranges thrillingly across manners, morals, sexual doings, kinds of speech both lyrical and candid, intimate as well as wild.” —American Academy of Arts and Letters
“[O]ne of the smarter, and funnier, poets of his generation, well balanced between absurdity and confession.” —Publishers Weekly
“[Hoagland’s poems] grapple with selfhood and manhood, but they also consider the mysteries of the national identity-how the social and the personal mutually impinge.” —Steven Cramer
Tony Hoagland is the author of five volumes of poetry: Application for Release from the Dream (Fall 2015); Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty; Sweet Ruin, winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry; Donkey Gospel, winner of the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets; and What Narcissism Means to Me, all from Graywolf Press. He is also the author of two collections of essays about poetry, Real Sofistakashun and Twenty Poems That Could Save America, as well as the chapbook Don’t Tell Anyone. His poems and critical essays have appeared widely in journals and anthologies such as American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, and Ploughshares.
He is the winner of the 2008 Jackson Poetry Prize, awarded by Poets & Writers magazine. The Jackson Prize citation stated that Hoagland “is a poet of risk: he risks wild laughter in poems that are totally heartfelt, poems you want to read out loud to anyone who needs to know the score and even more so to those who think they know the score. The framework of [Hoagland’s] writing is immense, almost as large as the tarnished nation he wandered into under the star of poetry.” In 2005 he received the O.B. Hardison Jr. Prize, awarded by the Folger Shakespeare Library; this is the only national prize to recognize a poet’s teaching as well as his art. Hoagland also received the 2005 Mark Twain Award, given by the Poetry Foundation in recognition of a poet’s contribution to humor in American poetry; of this award Stephen Young said, “There is nothing escapist or diversionary about Tony Hoagland’s poetry. Here’s misery, death, envy, hypocrisy, and vanity. But the still sad music of humanity is played with such a light touch on an instrument so sympathetically tuned that one can’t help but laugh. Wit and morality rarely consort these days; it’s good to see them happily, often hilariously reunited in the winner’s poetry.”
Tony Hoagland’s poems have been described as moving unerringly with wit and irony, like an arrow through its target—we, the readers—with exhilarating results. His poems sprint across the page and unexpectedly blow apart a single moment, exposing its contradictory nature—and often our folly. Hoagland explores the spiritual bereftness of American satisfaction, creating poetry that is scathing, funny, rich, and refreshingly intelligent.
In one of his lectures, “Poem as Psyche, Psyche as Poem,” influenced by Jungian studies, Hoagland discusses how poems are the manifestation of the complexity of the psyche. Poems are not just the most economical of literary forms, they are the most humanly intimate linguistic genre, the genre dedicated to psychic interiority and emotional immediacy. Poetry is the companion with whom one converses in the middle of the night. Surely that is why people turn to poetry during the most distressed passages of life, when they find themselves lost, sick, lonely, divorced, unemployed, oppressed, or otherwise in crisis.
Hoagland currently teaches in the poetry program at the University of Houston. He has also created an intensive seminar for teachers called The Five Powers of Poetry. With the goal of acquiring the understanding and skills to confidently teach poetry in the classroom, teachers learn Hoagland’s Five Powers of Poetry: image, diction, voice, structure, and implication.
Tony Hoagland is the author of five volumes of poetry: Application for Release from the Dream; Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty; Sweet Ruin, winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry; Donkey Gospel, winner of the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets; and What Narcissism Means to Me. He is also the author of two collections of essays about poetry, Real Sofistakashun and Twenty Poems That Could Save America, as well the chapbook Don’t Tell Anyone. His poems and critical essays have appeared in American Poetry Review, Harvard Review, and Ploughshares. He is the winner of the 2008 Jackson Poetry Prize, awarded by Poets & Writers magazine.
APPLICATION FOR RELEASE FROM THE DREAM (Poetry, 2015)
Are we corrupt or innocent, fragmented or whole? Are responsibility and freedom irreconcilable? Do we value memory or succumb to our forgetfulness? Application for Release from the Dream, Tony Hoagland’s fifth collection of poems, pursues these questions with the hobnailed abandon of one who needs to know how a citizen of twenty-first-century America can stay human. With whiplash nerve and tender curiosity, Hoagland both surveys the damage and finds the wonder that makes living worthwhile. Mirthful, fearless, and precise, these poems are full of judgment and mercy.
DON’T TELL ANYONE (Chapbook, 2014)
Once more the anthropologist of our American scene brings us his reports from the present. With a ruthless gaze, Tony Hoagland attends to all the details of modern frailty and human joy. “What is wrong with you?” he asks of “His Majesty Mr.-Boombox-In-My-Jeep” driving the beach road at 2 AM. What is wrong with all of us? these poems want to know and set off finding out. Don’t Tell Anyone is a chronicle of life, love, marriage, sex and shopping as only Tony Hoagland is able to render such things. His poems speak conversationally as if your good friend is telling you a story, but there is great wit and inventiveness behind each of them. Don’t tell anyone—tell everyone about these poems.
TWENTY POEMS THAT COULD SAVE AMERICA (Essays, 2014)
A fearless, wide-ranging book on the state of poetry and American literary culture, Twenty Poems That Could Save America presents insightful essays on the craft of poetry and a bold conversation about the role of poetry in contemporary culture. Essays on the “vertigo” effects of new poetry give way to appraisals of Robert Bly, Sharon Olds, and Dean Young. At the heart of this book is an honesty and curiosity about the ways poetry can influence America at both the private and public levels. Tony Hoagland is already one of this country’s most provocative poets, and this book confirms his role as a restless and perceptive literary and cultural critic.
UNINCORPORATED PERSONS IN THE LATE HONDA DYNASTY (Poetry, 2010)
In Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, Tony Hoagland is deep inside a republic that no longer offers reliable signage, in which comfort and suffering are intimately entwined, and whose citizens gasp for oxygen without knowing why. With Hoagland’s trademark humor and social commentary, these poems are exhilarating for their fierce moral curiosity, their desire to name the truth, and their celebration of the resilience of human nature.
REAL SOFISTIKASHUN (Essays, 2006)
Real Sofistikashun, from the title onward, displays Hoagland’s signature abilities to entertain and to instruct as he forages through central questions about how poems behave and how they are made. In these taut, illuminating essays, Hoagland explores matters of poetic craft—metaphor, tone, rhetorical and compositional strategies—in a buoyant conversational style less that of the scholar than of the serious enthusiast and practitioner. Real Sofistikashun is a vigorous and provocative collection of essays, which may be as pleasurable a book as it is useful.
If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.
Into the big enamel tub
half-filled with water
which I had made just right,
I lowered the childish skeleton
she had become.
Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped and rinsed
her belly and her chest,
the sorry ruin of her flanks
and the frayed gray cloud
between her legs.
Some nights, sitting by her bed
book open in my lap
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs,
my mind filled up with praise
as lush as music,
amazed at the symmetry and luck
that would offer me the chance to pay
my heavy debt of punishment and love
with love and punishment.
And once I held her dripping wet
in the uncomfortable air
between the wheelchair and the tub,
and she begged me like a child
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing
of power over weakness.
If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to raise the spoon
of pristine, frosty ice cream
to the trusting creature mouth
of your old enemy
because the tastebuds at least are not broken
because there is a bond between you
and sweet is sweet in any language.
—from Donkey Gospel
TWENTY POEMS THAT COULD SAVE AMERICA
Live American poetry is absent from our public schools. The teaching of poetry languishes, and that region of youthful neurological terrain capable of being ignited only by poetry is largely dark, unpopulated, and silent, like a classroom whose shades are drawn. This is more than a shame, for poetry is our common treasure-house, and we need its vitality, its respect for the subconscious, its willingness to entertain ambiguity, its plaintive truth-telling, and its imaginative exhibitions of linguistic freedom, which confront the general culture’s more grotesque manipulations. We need the emotional training sessions poetry conducts us through. We need its previews of coming attractions: heartbreak, survival, failure, endurance, understanding, more heartbreak.
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