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Posted August 21, 2009
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Tony Hoagland is a large waft of fresh air coming through the window of a house full of dogs, who breathe loudly and put their heavy, slobbering heads on their owner's knees as if to say "LOVE ME, PRETTY PLEASE!!".
Hoagland earned my love and adoration - without any drool - by being funny, revealing and making points about society and politics without beating this reader over the head (see previous part of sentence about "being funny"). He excels at pointing out the foibles and shortcomings about many of our fellow humanfolk, yet recognizes the instincts in being human, the instincts we'd like to have control over - but just don't. Take "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do":
On Friday afternoon David said he was divesting his holdings
in Stephanie dot org.
And Cindy announced she was getting rid of all her Dan-obelia,
and did anyone want a tennis racket or a cardigan?
Alice told Michael that she was transplanting herself
to another brand of potting soil
And Jason composed a 3-chord blues song called
"I Can't Rake Your Leaves Anymore Mama,"
then insisted on playing it
over his speakerphone to Ellen.
The moon rose up in the western sky
with an expression of complete exhaustion,
like a 38-year old single mother
standing at the edge of the playground. Right at that moment
Betty was extracting coil after coil of Andrew's
through a verbal incision she had made in his heart,
and Jane was parachuting into an Ani Difranco concert
wearing a banner saying, GET LOST, MARK RESNICK.
That's how you find out:
out of the blue.
And it hurts, baby, it really hurts,
because breaking up is hard to do.
There is magic in the mixture of playfulness ("I Can't Rake Your Leaves Anymore Mama") and somber realities ("a 38-year old single mother standing at the edge of the playground") in so many of Hoagland's poems, which never strays into boyish immaturity or heavy-handed political stances. He is who he is and he's not upset about it. He empathizes often and laughs even more. And when he writes about himself, he's interesting, revealing emotions that so many of us have been through, but maybe not expressed.
Sure, he can carry on a little too long with a poetic ploy, as in "Operations", which could have ended after the first stanza, and his lines can seem a little too long because he uses the same style throughout the book. On the other hand, his conversational style and dense, interesting commentary works well here in a shorter, chapbook format. And when he does stray a little from his style - as in the rhyming stanza at the end of "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" - the writing shines even more.
Hoagland, in short, is like a useful conversation among political opposites - congenial, filled with humor and empathy and ending with the deep realization that we're all human. We all want it to end on a good note.
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