This week our Top Shelf creator is Tony Hoagland. I am choosing him because he may be the best poet to teach us how to capture THE CRY OF THE OCCASION. As you can guess, we will also be talking during class about how you become attentive to occasions. Listen to 3 he captures.
LISTEN TO 3 Poems by Tony Hoagland.below.
You can read the full interview here:
EXCERPT Hoagland:____________ Stevens said a that a poem “is the cry of an occasion.” The friction of experience should serve as the ground poems arise from—a poem is a reaction to experience. When you’re younger you may write terrific sex poems, but then the fires cool and you change a bit. Other kinds of occasions and nuances make themselves available. This gives way to other types of poems, other shapes, other registers and observations. There’s always something new to write about, something that has never been described before. Staying alive is about the perpetuation of curiosity, and there’s always something new to be curious about.
Rumpus——————: There’s an abundance of humanity in your work that couples with—and this is strange to say out loud—a sense of what one might call “American spirituality.”
*Hoagland:__ Haha, yeah. Isn’t that a funny formulation—American and spirituality? But it’s a fact that people are drawn towards poetry from woundedness and a need for wiser voices than those around them. In your teens, when you’re seeking your first poems, you’re really seeking out a form of adulthood. Those early poems are carved out of desperation to know, or some crisis. It’s important for poets to create empathy, a sense of pity and tenderness for the human condition. All spirituality comes from that place.
Rumpus——————: Right now, what do you find interesting to write about? Are you excited about honing deeper in on what you’ve been exploring, or has that run its course?
*Hoagland:__ Well, I’ve been reading a lot of Tomas Transtromer lately, and Sufi poets in translation. Hafez translated by Bly is a current favorite. I guess what I find myself interested in are the composite poems which feature long lines, often in couplets, that are loosely meditative but not discursive. I’m trying to write things that are ambitious in how much experience they can gather into them while still feeling like they offer cohesiveness. At the same time, I’m trying to look at the poem as a quadratic equation, so that it has room to breath and work while still maintaining simplicity. Poetry has a freshness and spirituality that can never be counterfeit or tarnished, and in working on these poems I’m trying to remind myself of that.
Rumpus——————: How much thought goes into the tension or tautness of the poem? What I mean is that your voice on the page seems so natural, and conversational. In “Fortune,” for example, the poem does a terrific job of mimicking the slow sumptuousness of both the ritual and eating of the cookie. Is this part of the labor or does it just happen as you’re working out different logistics of a piece?
*Hoagland:__ A poem does have to stay taut in plot and in proportion. However, at the same time, it has to speed up and slow down and change register—all in the name of keeping the reader alert and attentive. In that sense, like a song, or music, it has to have a melody which keeps developing, and a rhythmic regularity underneath, which stabilizes and carries it forward. The reason why a good poem is such a little miracle is that it provides both its own supporting music and its improvisatory verbal surface. I especially like poems that shift their register from mode to mode, from the narrative to the psychological to the metaphysical, or existential—the elevation of a poem’s stakes are part of its drama. Ideally, it is not just the speaker’s happiness which is on the line, but the speaker’s soul.
Rumpus——————: I wanted to very quickly ask you about your thoughts on your being a “household poet.” You’ve achieved a certain amount of cultural fame and high regard. Judd Apatow put your work in his collection, I Found this Funny. Ron Livingston gives Anna Kendrick a copy of What Narcissism Means to Me in Joe Swanberg’s film “Drinking Buddies.” Do you ever feel any of that notoriety in your own life? Do you think it has the potential to make a poet soft or cater to expectations of voice, and what’s the best way a poet can combat that?
*Hoagland:__ Personally, I feel in no danger of overconfidence or smugness. Experience can be counted on to administer regular doses of deflation and humility. Nobody knows what a poem is, anyway, and therefore the challenge of writing one is always difficult—impossible—enough to remind you what a hacker you are. It’s true, some poets achieve a kind of technical “competence” which allows them to fire off poem after poem, but the best poets are disconsolate, searching, and restless. The human predicament—to be splintered off from creation—is insistently demanding new kinds of effort and inquiry.
Eric Farwell is a recent graduate of Monmouth University’s MA program for Poetry.
With the help of Zen,
my old friend Jack
dissolved his disagreements
with the world,
purified his quarrels,
shushed his ego,
stopped biting back
and gradually had
other than wise ones.
And so our friendship
lost its bones and meatiness,
because it is clear to
me that I
am not going to humanly
but will be
by shadow and abrasion.
I will keep eating my experience
with a certain
shitting out opinions
to the end.
Goodbye, my friend, goodbye, I say
quietly to myself
like a character
in some science-fiction novel
as I watch the
smooth spaceships of Zen
slip the heavy harness
of the earth
and rise into the weightlessness
leaving a few
hundred million of us
weeping and holding on
to our stormy weather
and our extended
allegiance to stones.