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Not to put too fine a point on it, but…

I’d like you to pause for a moment and try to imagine beginning a review with this sentence:

There are 15 or 20 better poets in America than Tony Hoagland, but few deliver more pure pleasure.

20 thoughts on “Not to put too fine a point on it, but…

  1. One just needs to imagine (to adapt Mr. Garner) the “Amiable School of American Book Reviewers”

    ; )

      1. I think you’re wrong, Shya. Just checked The Suburban Ecstasies archive. Hoagland was ranked #17 best poet last year. (He did come in #15 for freshman retention, which may be what you’re thinking of.)

      2. i guess i’m not really aware of the rankings of american poets so i dont know if i agree or disagree with where the review thinks he sits.

        what i find interesting about it is the implication that the ability to deliver pure pleasure does not necessarily make a great poet on its own, something i might agree with.

        1. I was being facetious. Ranking a poet like this just seemed like a kind of crazy thing–actually, I could probably imagine saying something like, “This isn’t the best poet…”, but I’d never throw up a number, let alone a *range*.

          I expect Garner was trying to be funny.

  2. I hate to go obvious, but 15-20?

    Uh, wow.

    I would also assume Garner playing.

    Everyone I know hates Hoag. I think he’s fine, esp in the classroom. Students can relate quickly, not a compliment, BTW, but not a damnation.

    1. Hoagland certainly gets a lot of flack, true. There are a few poems “about” Hoagland in my collection, and though they’ll be published in the next issue of Puerto del Sol, the eds were really sensitive about it, thinking it could stir up trouble if he finds them offensive (he’s on the board of the magazine or something).

      I’m quite fond of some of his poems, but I find others rather cloying. All in all, I don’t think it’s worth hating him, but he’s not making my mind explode, either. I think this is what people have a problem with–he seems content with writing rather pedestrian poems. Or rather, poems about pedestrian concerns, written in plain language. I think many readers don’t think he tries hard enough.

      1. Speaking of Garner’s “Amiable School of American Poets”– Billy Collins also gets tons of flack for the same reasons: pedestrianism, not trying hard enough…. he’s an easy target since he’s so popular and sells so many books. I mean– if you’re looking for someone who pushes the limits of language you don’t go to Hoagland or Collins. You check out, I don’t know, Will Alexander, Susan Howe, Myung Mi Kim…

        Collins is well aware of his niche within the contemporary scene; in fact, he said: ““I think of myself as probably a tier-two or -three poet. I don’t think my popularity changes that…I don’t think I’m anywhere near as good a poet as 50 poets I could name.” Again we have this odd issue of “ranking” poets, but I remember respecting that statement when I heard it even though I don’t particularly care for his poetry.

        So, yeah, hating on someone isn’t worth it unless he or she is making some kind of claim that warrants otherwise.

        That being said– I do think Hoagland should be taken to task for what he says about “the Skittery Poem of Our Moment.”

        1. I don’t know about his “skittery” comment, but I’ll take your word for it. I don’t doubt he feels that way. His relationship with Dean Young somehow redeems him from at least some of whatever intolerance for contemporary poetry he’s voiced, though, in my eyes.

            1. Thanks, Michael, I’ll give it a read. Hoagland and Young are long-standing friends, and involved in something of a poetic dialogue with one another. In each of their books, you’ll find, one dedicates at least one poem to the other. In fact, the poem cited in the review linked to in the original post–the one about wine–is dedicated to Young, I believe (who is a wine buff).

            2. So I read that article, and I find much to recommend in it, actually. I think he’s more or less accurately marking a significant trend, and saying sane things about it, but I don’t really agree with his conclusions.

              I really like this thought: “dissociative poetry verifies itself by eluding structures”. But I don’t think it implies, as he states in the next paragraph, that “dissociative poetry is always shuffling the deck in order to evade knowability.”

              I think it’s actually the opposite. Like Hoagland says, many people, many artists, are “deeply anxious about our ignorance and vulnerability.” This is because we’ve been fed so many narratives that have later been shown to be flawed, or worse, intentionally misleading.

              The result for many of us is that we do not want to remain within one narrative long enough to take it for granted, for it, essentially, to eclipse the self behind it. One answer to this problem–for surely there are many–is to shake off language even as it is being appropriated to describe/convey/evoke, so that what remains is a trace that can not be said to “owe” itself to anything but the self, the referring I.

              In other words, I think it’s a way of trying to expose the self, to be honest in a way free of received ideas, even as the poet admits it has no ideas but those he has received.

              In the end, then, I disagree with Hoagland’s assessment that such poetry forfeits “the individual power to locate and assert value.” I think it’s exactly this ambition that results in the kind of will-to-dissociate.

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