What Tony Hoagland Means to Me

Last night I met one of my poetry crushes (and by crush, I mean an intellectual crush, someone I’d love to talk to over tea about poetry)—Tony Hoagland.

Hoagland gave a reading at the Salem Athenaeum as part of the Salem State College’s Poetry Seminar, a program for select poets from public colleges and universities in Massachusetts. After four very talented seminar students shared their poems, he read and took questions from the audience.

Here are a few gems:

  • While Hoagland had his other books and some new poems to share, he did not have a copy of What Narcissism Means to Me, which is my favorite collection, so he borrowed my copy!
  • He opened by reading “What Was Said to the Rose” by Rumi. As he read, he spoke about its eroticism, and the power of the list poem.
  • I was struck by his wit and how it comes through in his writing. I don’t think he sets out to write humorous poems, but that’s what comes through his work and his delivery, a natural extension of his personality.
  • Hoagland is not afraid to address topics such as race, sometimes uncomfortable but sincere in his efforts.
  • During the Q&A, someone asked what kinds of poems he likes to teach. He looks for poems with subjects that are real and contemporary. He also chooses poems that give people pleasure so students, in turn, will write poem that give them pleasure.
  • Hoagland said, “You have to be willing to write a lot of bad poems.” (So true!) He “riffs” a lot in a journal, goes back and retypes pages full of fragments on a manual typewriter until he finds a core.
  • You go to poetry for one reason and stay for another.
  • “A poem is a delivery system for the best lines.” Love that quote.
  • Hoagland said that poets are trying to heal a wound or some hole that’s drawn them to poetry, and they want to make it stop hurting. That wound will lead you into an art form. 20th-century poetry is about surprise and improvisation.

An excellent night of poetry!


evelyn.n.alfred said…
Sounds like a fun night. I like his last comment the most.
Kay Cooke said…
I love the summary you've given us here January. 'A poem is a delivery system' is a great line!
January said…
Thanks Kay, Evelyn. My poetry soul felt nourished after Hoagland's reading. It truly was a great night of poetry.

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