Tony Hoagland

I was sad to learn that the US poet Tony Hoagland has died of cancer, aged only 64.

Marie Howe has said of his work “Hilarious, searing poems that break your heart so fast you hardly notice you’re standing knee deep in a pool of implications. They are of this moment, right now – the present that we’re already homesick for”.

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Bloodaxe published What Narcissism means to me in the UK in 2005. What many of the poems really demonstrate is the effect of intriguing opening lines:

* That was the summer I used The Duino Elegies/in all of my seductions
* That was the summer my best friend/ called me a faggot on the telephone,
* In Delaware a congressman/accused of sexual misconduct
* What I notice today is the aroma of my chiropractor’s breath
* Maybe I overdid it/when I called my father an enemy of humanity.
* Sometimes I like to think about the people I hate.
* But now I am afraid I know too much to kill myself.
* The sparrows are a kind of people/who lost a war a thousand years ago;
* To whomever taught me the word dickhead,/I owe a debt of thanks.
* But what about the courage/of the cancer cell

Two of the poems that stayed with me are about his parents. The poem Lucky starts:

If you are lucky in this life,
you will get to help your enemy
the way I got to help my mother
when she was weakened past the point of saying no.

On the next page is Benevolence which starts When my father dies and comes back as a dog

The collection has several poems about illness too. The final poem Emigration’s first stanza:

Try being sick for a year,
then having that year turn into two,
until the memory of your health is like an island
going out of sight behind you

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