Monday, April 05, 2010

Tony Hoagland is pretty funny and that is enough for me to like a lot of his poems but he is also smart and has a great ability to write about poetry in a way that makes me think "yes, I agree." I had that reaction when I read this thing he wrote about Dean Young I wish I could find on the internet and I'm having it all the time now when I dip into his essay collection Real Sofistikashun that I would not have found had Joseph not pointed out to me that there were books below my eye level when we were at Hyde Bros. the other day.

There are a few varieties of the "yes, I agree" response that you can have when you read. One of the good ones is where someone has said something that you have consciously thought in the past but had thought you were the only one. And reading this person makes you feel understood and less lonely for a few minutes, even if you didn't know that you were lonely.

Another good kind is where someone says something that you didn't even know you had felt it until you read him saying it. His or her words cause a secret panel to melt inside of you and it reveals some unrecognized feeling that had been there all along. This happens a lot, if you read a lot, and it is one of the best things that can happen to you. A long time ago this happened to me a bunch when I read Richard Ford's Independence Day. Something about Frank Bascombe and how he was always "seeing around" his feelings. Relating to him should depress me but it doesn't.

An example of the former variety happened as I read one of Hoagland's essays a few days ago. He's describing surrealist poetry:
In the Surrealist aesthetic, imagery has virtue to the extent that it exhibits freedom, and art is "reliable" to the extent that it trusts in the revelation of process. The poem is an action, not an object, and its architecture is a series of moment to moment jolts and explosions.
I have thought, like, exactly that same thing for a long time. It works for things other than just surrealist poetry, too, I guess. That idea of the poem being an action, an enactment, is what gets me, and let's me read differently. The surrealist poem is less an object with a rhetorical purpose than a document of a life lived in a certain way. You could argue much contemporary poetry is that way, but I might argue that this modern tendency owes itself to Breton and the surrealists.

Anyway, writing about this makes me think about one of my favorite poems from the last Beloit Poetry Journal. I hope it's one Dawn voted for. I am going to steal it, I guess. If it's not okay, she will let me know.

Old Men

Your carnation-white flesh
Lives off scrawny birds
And thereby catches fire

You old men, sing slower
In the shifting wind
And let the sun crumble
Between your fingers

The blue-feathered sleep
Has the teeth of death
And the voice of lime
This is already a long post, so I will let "Old men" speak, or not, for itself. But it's beautiful whether or not.


Dawn Potter said...

I think I was in NY during the editorial meeting when this BPJ poem happened. But I love hearing your take on surrealism, mostly because it's a subgenre that I struggle with. I know that I have a blind spot, and it feels good to have that eyepatch peeled off now and again. Thanks.

Kristina said...

So I'm in this publishing class right now, and our end-of-semester project is to create a chapbook from start to finish (from soliciting authors to getting it bound). And we're totally using a couple of Tony Hoagland poems. They are brilliant.

I'll be sure to send you the mock-up via e-mail.