Tony Hoagland (1953-2018) was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His father was an Army doctor, and Hoagland grew up on various military bases throughout the South. He taught at the University of Houston and in the low residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College. He lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was married to the writer Kathleen Lee. His first collection, Sweet Ruin (1992), won the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. His second, Donkey Gospel (1998), won the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets. The third, What Narcissism Means to Me (2003), was shortlisted for a National Book Circle Critics Award. His first UK book of poems, What Narcissism Means to Me: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2005) drew upon these three collections, and was followed by Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (2010) and Application for Release from the Dream, published by Graywolf Press in the US in 2015 and by Bloodaxe in Britain in 2016. is final two collections, written over the same period, were a small collection, Recent Changes in the Vernacular (Tres Chicas Press, 2017), and Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God (Graywolf Press, 2018). The Bloodaxe UK edition of Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God (2019) also includes some poems from Recent Changes in the Vernacular. He also published Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft (Graywolf Press, USA, 2006) and Twenty Poems That Could Save America and Other Essays (Graywolf Press, USA, 2014). He was given a number of literary honours, including the Jackson Poetry Prize, awarded by Poets & Writers magazine; the Mark Twain Award, given by the Poetry Foundation; and the O.B. Hardison Jr. Prize from the Folger Shakespeare Library.
"How did I come to believe in a government called Tony Hoagland?/ with an economy based on flattery and self-protection?" How indeed. In Hoagland's third collection, as in the previous two, his speaker devotes considerable energy to unmasking this vulnerable self, revealing its ugliness, hatred and social sensitivity in articulate detail. A typical poem begins masochistically: " `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.' "-and then goes on to concede, perhaps predictably, that "anyway, she was right about me...." In milder poems, which often revolve around eating dinner, drinking wine and hanging out with friends (typically other creative writing professors), he explores a more social self, slipping into a "he said, she said" mode, and reporting at great length on friends' witticisms: "Kath says February is always like eating a raw egg;/ Peter says it's like wearing a bandage on your head; / Mary says it's like a pack of wild dogs who have gotten into medical waste,/ and smiles because she clearly is the winner." Hoagland funnels 21st-century corporate detritus into his more Whitmanesque impulses, in which he begins to explore a sweeping and explicitly American identity oriented by Radio Shacks and K marts. His attempts to branch out with satires of anthropological reportage, particularly about black people, can be somewhat embarrassing: "Black for me is a country/ more foreign than China or Vagina,/ more alarming than going down Niagara on Viagra...." Readers will probably prefer the poems about sitting alone in a room or drinking wine with Dean Young. (Nov.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
He belongs to that wagon-circle of American poets who believe in a "common reader"...Hoagland is a poet of a ragged, half-satirical, half-lyrical intensity. If Billy Collins is Updike, Hoagland is Salinger, or perhaps Holden Caulfield...making us think we know the ground we are on, then showing us that we don't...For me, he not only pulls the rug from under my feet when it comes to the moral complacencies and platitudes that I don't notice I live by, he does the same with my given poetic certainties. -- Henry Shukman * Poetry London *