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February 4, 2011AWP ConferenceOmni Shoreham HotelWashington, D.C.

About this poet

Born on November 19, 1953, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Tony Hoagland is the author of witty, poingnant poems that comment on contemporary American life and culture.

His books of poetry include Unincorporated Personas in the Late Honda Dynasty (Graywolf Press, 2010); What Narcissism Means to Me (2003), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Donkey Gospel (1998), which received the James Laughlin Award; and Sweet Ruin (1992), chosen by Donald Justice for the 1992 Brittingham Prize in Poetry and winner of the Zacharis Award from Emerson College.

Hoagland's other honors and awards include two grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship to the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center, the O. B. Hardison Prize for Poetry and Teaching from the Folger Shakespeare Library, the 2008 Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers magazine, as well as the Poetry Foundation's 2005 Mark Twain Award in recognition of his contribution to humor in American poetry.

In 2002, the American Academy of Arts and Letters praised the poet's work with a citation stating, "Tony Hoagland's imagination ranges thrillingly across manners, morals, sexual doings, kinds of speech both lyrical and candid, intimate as well as wild."

He currently teaches at the University of Houston and Warren Wilson College.

The Change

Tony Hoagland, 1953

The season turned like the page of a glossy fashion magazine. 
In the park the daffodils came up 
and in the parking lot, the new car models were on parade.

Sometimes I think that nothing really changes—

The young girls show the latest crop of tummies, 
        and the new president proves that he's a dummy.

But remember the tennis match we watched that year? 
Right before our eyes

some tough little European blonde 
pitted against that big black girl from Alabama, 
cornrowed hair and Zulu bangles on her arms, 
some outrageous name like Vondella Aphrodite—

We were just walking past the lounge 
     and got sucked in by the screen above the bar, 
and pretty soon 
we started to care about who won,

putting ourselves into each whacked return 
as the volleys went back and forth and back 
like some contest between 
the old world and the new,

and you loved her complicated hair 
and her to-hell-with-everybody stare, 
and I, 
         I couldn't help wanting
the white girl to come out on top, 
because she was one of my kind, my tribe, 
with her pale eyes and thin lips

and because the black girl was so big 
and so black, 
                        so unintimidated,

hitting the ball like she was driving the Emancipation Proclamation 
down Abraham Lincoln's throat, 
like she wasn't asking anyone's permission.

There are moments when history 
passes you so close 
                you can smell its breath, 
you can reach your hand out 
                                    and touch it on its flank,

and I don't watch all that much Masterpiece Theatre, 
but I could feel the end of an era there

in front of those bleachers full of people 
in their Sunday tennis-watching clothes

as that black girl wore down her opponent 
then kicked her ass good 
then thumped her once more for good measure

and stood up on the red clay court 
holding her racket over her head like a guitar.

And the little pink judge 
                          had to climb up on a box 
to put the ribbon on her neck, 
still managing to smile into the camera flash, 
even though everything was changing

and in fact, everything had already changed—

Poof, remember? It was the twentieth century almost gone, 
we were there,

and when we went to put it back where it belonged, 
it was past us 
and we were changed.

 


 

Listen to Claudia Rankine respond to Hoagland's poem >

From What Narcissism Means to Me. Copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

From What Narcissism Means to Me. Copyright © 2003 by Tony Hoagland. Used with permission of Graywolf Press.

Tony Hoagland

Tony Hoagland

Born on November 19, 1953, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Tony Hoagland

by this poet

poem
Prolonged exposure to death 
Has made my friend quieter.

Now his nose is less like a hatchet
And more like a snuffler.

Flames don't erupt from his mouth anymore
And life doesn't crack his thermometer.

Instead of overthrowing the government
He reads fly-fishing catalogues

And takes photographs of water.
An
poem

My marriage ended in an airport long ago.
I was not wise enough to cry while looking for my car,

walking through the underground garage;
jets were roaring overhead, and if I had been wise

I would have looked up at those heavy-bellied cylinders
and seen the wheelchairs
poem
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.

Into the big enamel tub 
half-filled with water 
which I had made just right, 
I lowered the childish skeleton 
she had become.

Her eyelids fluttered as I soaped