Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
In “Romantic Moment,” which he read at the 2006 Dodge Poetry Festival, Tony Hoagland manages to turn both love poetry and nature poetry on their heads.
For centuries, poets have asserted that poetry forces us to stop and look more closely at the world around us. Like the thousands of nature poems that have come before it, Hoagland’s poem pays meticulous attention to detail. The more specific his descriptions become, the greater the absurdity of the images evoked, and the louder the audience laughs. Although he never states it directly, the poem forces us to wonder at the absurdity of the elaborate protocols that dominate human courtship.
And yet, there is gentleness in his treatment of the couple, who finally decide to simply get some ice cream at this stage of their particular mating ritual. There is always heart at the heart of Hoagland’s humor. Although the poems can often be biting—there were several points during his readings at the Festival when the audience shared a collective gasp—Hoagland turns his wit most often against himself.
Poets have also asserted that poems force us to look inward, at ourselves. Hoagland is a relentless observer of human behavior and motivation, constantly digging into the deeper layers beneath what consciousness typically allows us to acknowledge about ourselves. His is not an escapist’s or a cynic’s humor. It is rooted in tenderness toward our human foibles and faith in our potential. He invites us to laugh, and we do because sometimes when we hurt, laughter offers greater relief than crying.
The text of “Romantic Moment ” can be found in the chapbook Hard Rain. Tony Hoagland’s most recent full-length collection was What Narcissism Means to Me, and Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty will be out soon.
Be sure to return for upcoming Poetry Fridays, when we will feature many poets from past Dodge Poetry Festivals in the weeks ahead, including Linda Hogan, Taslima Nasreen and others.
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