PICK OF THE WEEK: Tony Hoagland

Fri Feb 11 11, Chateau Tivoli

(Evan Karp)

This week’s pick is an excerpt from Tony Hoagland‘s excellent reading at Chateau Tivoli, a benefit for the crucial new non-profit International Poetry Library of San Francisco. You can watch his entire reading here and read the full text of one of the following poems below.

“The Social Life of Water”

All water is a part of other water

Cloud talks to lake

Mist speaks quietly to creek

Lake says something back to cloud

And cloud listens

No water is lonely water

All water is part of other water

River rushes to reunite with ocean

Tree drinks rain and sweats out dew

Dew takes elevator into cloud

Cloud marries puddle

Puddle has long conversation about lake with fjord

Fog sneaks up and murmurs insinuations to swamp

Swamp makes needs known to marshland

Thunderstorm throws itself on estuary

Water spout laughs at joke of frog pond

All water understands

Reservoir gathers information from database of watershed

Brook translates lake to waterfall

Tide wrinkles its green forehead and then breaks through

All water understands

But you

You stand on the shore

Of blue Lake Kiev in the evening

And listen, grieving

As something stirs and turns within you

Not knowing why you linger in the dark

Not even able to guess from what you are excluded

These poems have a little of everything in them: social commentary, mastery of language and form (forgive the line breaks, which reflect the transcription of one without such mastery), pathos, humor … it’s hard to imagine what else we might want in a poem. I know I personally need to get a copy of Real Sofistikashun (Greywolf), a book of essays Hoagland wrote on the craft of poetry. Also, a couple of facts I like:

  1. The American Academy of Arts and Letters had this to say: “Tony Hoagland’s imagination ranges thrillingly across manners, morals, sexual doings, kinds of speech both lyrical and candid, intimate as well as wild.”
  2. He teaches at the University of Houston and at the Warren Wilson College MFA program, also proud launching pad of our good friend Peg.
  3. This review over at Poetry Flash says his poems have “both punch and charm.” This, friends, is what we call the right kind of fighter.
  4. There is a great interview (to which you can also listen) at Poets.org. Here’s an excerpt:

… poetry is an instrument that can diagnose, and also proclaim, what is of value and what is contamination or disease. By naming what is of value and what is not of value, one can somehow find a way out of the labyrinth. One thing that I think poetry can do is hold up a snow globe of contemporary American experience, so we can look at it from a safe position from outside and say “yes, it really is demented, and there actually are some choices I can take to make myself less crazy, and to be less complicitous with these structures of collective dementia.”

This coming week » Anger Management today on the first day of the second year of Viracocha! The Rumpus tomorrow will feature some sweet sweet offerings from Charlie Getter. Word Party Tuesday, Lyrics & Dirges Wednesday, Rebecca Solnit or InsideStoryTime Thursday, Writers With Drinks or SF in SF on Saturday … and the debut of Clattering Loom on Sunday. What will become of Friday?