by Tony Hoagland
On two occasions in the past twelve months
I have failed, when someone at a party
spoke of him with a dismissive scorn,
to stand up for D. H. Lawrence,
a man who burned like an acetylene torch
from one end to the other of his life.
These individuals, whose relationship to literature
is approximately that of a tree shredder
to stands of old-growth forest,
these people leaned back in their chairs,
bellies full of dry white wine and the ovum of some foreign fish,
and casually dropped his name
the way pygmies with their little poison spears
strut around the carcass of a fallen elephant.
“O Elephant,” they say,
“you are not so big and brave today!”
It’s a bad day when people speak of their superiors
with a contempt they haven’t earned,
and it’s a sorry thing when certain other people
don’t defend the great dead ones
who have opened up the world before them.
And though, in the catalogue of my betrayals,
this is a fairly minor entry,
I resolve, if the occasion should recur,
to uncheck my tongue and say,
“I love the spectacle of maggots condescending to a corpse,
”or, “You should be so lucky in your brainy, bloodless life
as to deserve to lift
just one of D. H. Lawrence’s urine samples
to your arid psychobiographic
Or maybe I’ll just take the shortcut
between the spirit and the flesh,
and punch someone in the face,
because human beings haven’t come that far
in their effort to subdue the body,
and we still walk around like zombies
in our dying, burning world,
able to do little more
than fight, and fuck, and crow,
something Lawrence wrote about
in such a manner
as to make us seem magnificent.
Copyright © Tony Hoagland
A couple of weeks ago Tony Hoagland was the subject of Robert Pinsky's Poet's Choice column. I was amused by the poem selected, What Narcissism Means to Me, the title poem of Hoagland's latest collection.There is a wonderfully thorough review of the collection here.
I scouted around and found more poems and essays. Like the reviewer above noted, Hoagland's titles such as Smallpox Vaccination Sutra, Hate Hotel draw you in for a closer look which is rewarded. The poems Bad Intelligence and Operations, which are critical and poke fun at the military, both resonated with me because as a military intelligence linguist I had taken part in the lamely named Operation Just Cause. (Immediately redubbed Operation Just Because We Want the Panama Canal Back.) What ever happened to the semantically null but cool names like Operation Overlord? This attraction of titles is true not only for his poems but also for one his essays on poetry from the Poetry Daily website, Negative Capability: How to Talk Mean and Influence People.
Anyway,I chose the poem above as an example of his work for a couple of reasons. It is delightfully wicked and I have recently felt the same regrets of the narrator (In my case it was Don Delillo being run down and I really couldn't speak up because I was eavesdropping). Another reason is that I too have spoken with 'unearned contempt' of writers without really reading them closely or at all.(Seriously though, I will not go near Lady Chatterly's Lover again unless its the Cinemax late night movie version.) Enough rambling, mistakes will be corrected as noted. Have a good weekend. I leave you with another of his poems since I probably won't post anything for a couple of days.
by Tony Hoagland
Sometimes I wish I were still out
on the back porch, drinking jet fuel
with the boys, getting louder and louder
as the empty cans drop out of our paws
like booster rockets falling back to Earth
and we soar up into the summer stars.
Summer. The big sky river rushes overhead,
bearing asteroids and mist, blind fish
and old space suits with skeletons inside.
On Earth, men celebrate their hairiness,
and it is good, a way of letting life
out of the box, uncapping the bottle
to let the effervescence gush
through the narrow, usually constricted neck.
And now the crickets plug in their appliances
in unison, and then the fireflies flash
dots and dashes in the grass, like punctuation
for the labyrinthine, untrue tales of sex
someone is telling in the dark, though
no one really hears. We gaze into the night
as if remembering the bright unbroken planet
we once came from,
to which we will never
be permitted to return.
We are amazed how hurt we are.
We would give anything for what we have.