Real Poetry

reviews, tips, and personal/local writing

Archive for the tag “Tony Hoagland”

James Tate – “The Rules”

Well hello there.

I feel as though I’ve fallen off the map for a little while there. I wish I could say that I’ve been fighting the good fight or at least putting pen to paper and producing something new to work with in my writing, but honestly I have really just been distracted. Though not much an excuse, I’ve had my little niece and nephew staying with me and the family for the better part of a month so far… and for those who are not aware, a 1 and 4-year-old can be quite a distraction. Especially when they require almost constant entertainment. I’m not really complaining though.

But last night, at around 11:16 my mind just sort of clicked. It’s happened to me before. It wasn’t a lightbulb turning on. I had this initial thought just pop into my head. And I’ll even share it with you here “I’ve slipped.” Just those two words. And I kept repeating them over and over in my mind. My hands started to shake slightly, and I could feel my heart racing as the words just kept up on a loop. I can’t really think of any other way to describe it. So I’d say by 11:18 I realized that the random show I was watching had to stop and I got up and started writing. It’s always a great feeling when I’ve finally gotten myself to write something down.

I would like to have revised that poem up and put it up here for everyone to see, but I want to give it more time to gestate, so to speak. So to tide things over, I thought I’d share another poem of the week. The poem, “The Rules,” is by the poet James Tate. I ran into Tate when reading an essay by Tony Hoagland (another poet I have reviewed previously). His writing style is… different. At least in his book The Ghost Soldiers. The poems are basically all written in prose. This, combined with the short and accelerating sentences (you’ll understand when you read it aloud to yourself) make it a style that really sets the heart racing by the poem’s conclusion. The poem is also marked by its odd sense of humor in the seeming randomness of the content at times, but the finality in the command at the conclusion always sets me adrift momentarily after a read through. Perhaps you’ll see what I mean after a reading.

Hope you all have that moment of inspiration,
Stephen R.

A Cream Cheese and Lox Bagle

The Rules

Jack told me to never reveal my true identity. “I would
never do that,” I said. “Always wear at least a partial disguise,”
he said. “Of course,” I said. “And try to blend in with the
crowd,” he said. “Naturally,” I said. “And never fall in love,”
he said. “Far too dangerous,” I said. “Never raise your voice,”
he said, “Understood,” I said. “Never run,” he said. “I
wouldn’t dream of it,” I said. “Never make a glutton of yourself,”
he said. “It won’t happen,” I said. “Always be polite,” he
said. “That’s me, polite,” I said. “Don’t sing in public,”
he said. “You have my promise,” I said. “Don’t touch strangers,”
he said. “That’s forbidden,” I said. “Never speed,” he said.
“You can count on me,” I said. “Don’t wear plaid,” he said.
“No plaid,” I said. “Don’t pet dogs,” he said. “Of course
not,” I said. “Don’t jump fences,” he said. “I won’t,” I
said. “Stay away from children,” he said. “I will,” I said.
“Don’t enter churches,” he said. “Of course not,” I said.
“Good posture at all times,” he said. “Good posture is a must,”
I said. “Never pick money out of the gutter,” he said. “That’s
not for me,” I said. “Be punctual,” he said. “Always on time,”
I said. “When walking or driving always mix your routes,” he
said. “Naturally,” I said. “Never order the same meal twice,”
he said. “Never,” I said. “Do not be seen on the street after
midnight,” he said. “Not ever,” I said. “Do not give money
to homeless beggars,” he said. “Nothing for the beggars,”
I said. “Do not start conversations with officers of the law,”
he said. “No talking with cops,” I said. “No ice skating,”
he said. “Never,” I said. “No skiing,” he said. “Of course
not,” I said. “When a sign says STAY OFF THE GRASS, you’ll
stay off,” he said. “I will, I said. “No chewing gum in
public,” he said. “I won’t,” I said. “You must carry your weapon
at all times,” he said. “Always armed,” I said. “You must
follow orders,” he said. “Count on it,” I said. “You will
contact Central once a week,” he said. “Contact Central,”
I said. “No green pants,” he said. “Certainly not,” I said.
“No orange or purple shirts,” he said. “Not for me,” I said.
“No sushi,” he said. “Oh no,” I said. “No fandango,” he said.
“Not possible,” I said. “No farm bureau,” he said. “Not my
style,” I said. Beware hypnotism,” he said. “Always
alert,” I said. “Watch out for leeches,” he said. “A danger
not forgotten,” I said. “Stay off gondolas.” “Instinctively,”
I said. “Never trust a fortune-teller,” he said. “Never,”
I said. “Avoid crusades,” he said. “Certainly,” I said.
“Never ride on a blimp,” he said. “Blimps are out,” I said.
“Do not chase turkeys,” he said. “I will not,” I said. “Do
not put your hand in the mouth of a horse,” he said. “Out
of the question,” I said. “Never believe in miracles,” he said.
“I won’t,” I said.

– James Tate

P.S. For anyone curious by this point, the sonnet challenge has proven a very difficult thing to get myself to maintain. I have one to put up eventually, but I’ll only do that when I think it’s really revised enough.

P.P.S. I honestly struggled coming up with an image to fit this poem, as you can see it goes pretty much everywhere.  So I settled on a picture of my favorite bagel to eat when I visit New York.

Brief Update/Honors Thesis Update

Since I’m going to be unable to keep up with poetry reviews as much as I would like to, I thought I’d share what I’m working on that’s keeping me so busy. Some of this work is mostly boring class stuff that is irrelevant to this blog. However, I’m working on an Honors Thesis that is centered on my writing of poetry. As I mentioned previously, I’m writing a lot of material, but now I’m starting to shift my focus to the revision process. Along with this new focus, I’ve been reading tons of poetry and essays on poetry to help with both my understanding and my knowledge of poetry and its many forms.  To give a slight impression of what this process has and will entail, I’ve included the picture below of some of the books I’ve already read or will be reading.  Feel free to click to enlarge the picture.

So anyways, what this all means for the blog is, I’m going to try and post little brief updates about what I’ve been reading on Tuesdays, both to share what I’m working on and to help me to comprehend just how much I’ve retained.  For instance:

I read an article written by Tony Hoagland last night: Altitudes, a Homemade Taxonomy: Image, Diction, and Rhetoric.  It discussed three “poetic chakras” that are present to certain extents in well-written poetry, though some poets are stronger in one or the other.  If you couldn’t figure it out from the title of the article, these three “chakras” are image, diction, and rhetoric.  Simply put, poets who are stronger in image rely on the use of image as their means of conveying information; poets who lean towards the use of diction rely on word choice to provide a stronger sense of voice and character; and those who rely on rhetoric often sound preachy.  Hoagland says any one of these can be fine on its own, but that the intermingling of all three can produce some of the best poetry.  He uses Paul Goodman‘s poem “Birthday Cake” as an example of the latter.

Hope everyone has had a great start to the week,

Combat Steve

What Narcissism Means to Me – Tony Hoagland

20120214-205248.jpgTony Hoagland is a character. Having met him a few years ago at a reading, I can definitely say that the voice of his poems is his own. He has a certain amount of seriousness, that is interspersed with just the right amount of humor to avoid getting bogged down. His book, What Narcissism Means to Me, follows this technique fairly successfully.

The poems are divided into four sections (America, Social Life, Blues, and Luck), and overall the poems for each section actually correlate to the titles they have… a habit that some collections of poetry I have read in the past have failed to accomplish. The first section focuses on American culture and with the poem “America” Tony encodes some serious commentary when he says he remembers how he “stabbed my father in the dream last night,/ It was not blood but money/ that gushed out of him.” This is shortly followed by the comedic turn of his father saying “Thank god–those Ben Franklins were/ Clogging up my heart–.”

The second section deals with the speaker of the poems’ interactions with close friends. One particular poem, “Patience,” details the speaker being chewed out for his attitude. Rather than rise in anger, the speaker sits back and smiles knowing this is what he has needed to hear. The opening stanza really needs to be shown in its entirety here:

“Success is the worst possible thing that could happen
to a man like you,” she said,
“because the shiny shoes, and flattery
and the self-
lubricating slime of affluence would mean
you’d never have to face your failure as a human being.”
-Excerpt from Tony Hoagland “Patience”

The third section hits a far more dark stride with issues such as suicide. One poem in particular, “Suicide Song,” is written in a very intriguing way. The majority of the poem is written in the first person, allowing the speaker of the poem to confess instances of suicidal contemplations and why he hasn’t done it yet, ultimately asking rather humorously “And anyway, who has clothes nice enough to be caught dead in?” The poem then takes a dramatic shift and addressesthe reader in the second person saying “You stay alive you stupid asshole/ Because you haven’t been excused.” The surprising turn of perspective there made me shift in my seat and read the poem a few extra times, but it left me with a stronger sense of hopefulness than I received in other parts of the collection.

The last section of the book didn’t accomplish as much for me as the third. It predominantly deals with relationships and some tinges of experiences after someone’s death, but it ultimately reads like the second section of the book again.

Overall, this is a fine collection for anyone to read. The lightheartedness interspersed throughout each poem and section acts as a nice breather between some truly emotional and dark content. I find it hard to realize, in writing this review, that so much darkness actually pervades this book, because really, when I had initially finished reading it, I felt rather happy and well entertained. If you want some serious content, that relieves any built up tension through some clever humor, check out this book.

Final verdict:

3/4 – Worth checking out

Post Navigation