I’ve been reading Tony Hoagland for almost as long as I have been reading poetry. Which, considering how long I have technically been alive, is not so very long, relatively speaking. But since a kind of living started around the same time I started reading poetry, it feels not unreasonable to say I’ve been reading him all of my life.
The first poem might have been the one about his wife telling him that every day at the pool she screams under the water while she swims her 22 laps. I recall being less fascinated by his wife’s subaquatic habit (though, really, how she accomplished this without drowning or at least taking in a good deal of water is worth some exploration) as I was by his impassive reaction to it. There was no cause for alarm, he seemed to conclude; “For all I know, maybe everyone is screaming / as they go through life, silently…”
Mostly, I found this poem to be an indication this was an interesting person. Or at least someone who was married to an interesting person, and if I kept reading some of that interestingness might keep bleeding out into his poetry.
And then, somehow, without really trying, I ran into his poem about the grocery sack handles stretching under the weight of the milk jug and concluding that it was, in fact, more than likely that both Mrs. Hoagland and the poet were interesting people, as the strained grocery sack somehow led him into a reflection on the way a friendship can slowly dissolve into something much less, and not everyone’s thoughts would go that route on their way from the checkout line to the car. “There is no single, unimpeachable word / for that vague sensation of something moving away from you / as it exceeds its elastic capacity…”
Today I added Hoagland’s collection of essays, Real Sofistikashun, to the list of books that are not on my shelf, left inexplicably behind on another shelf in another place and needing very much to be retrieved. Without the essays, I can’t share the quote about metaphor that is resting in the back of my brain that would better explain what I find so interesting about screaming under water and overwrought grocery sacks. Without the essays, we are left to read his poems, since those books did make the trip.
The silver lining of the missing essay collection and available poetry collections is, perhaps, that it is not National Essay Month, but National Poetry Month. Throughout the month of April, I’m reading Tony Hoagland every day, or nearly so. When a poem particularly piques my interest, I am writing it out longhand. Sometimes more than once.
As is Tweetspeak’s tradition, we invite you to a group poetry dare for the month, this year reading a favorite poet all month, and writing poems out on paper. Perhaps you’d even enjoy making a collage of pictures and phrases cut out from magazines in response to a poem. Each week I’ll share what I’ve read, and hope to see what you’ve been reading as well.
Featured photo by cleo, Creative Commons license via Flickr. Post by Will Willingham.