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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 authored 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 taught at the University of Houston and Warren Wilson College. He died of pancreatic cancer on October 23, 2018. 

The Change

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

At this height, Kansas 
is just a concept, 
a checkerboard design of wheat and corn

no larger than the foldout section 
of my neighbor's travel magazine. 
At this stage of the journey

I would estimate the distance 
between myself and my own feelings 
is roughly the same as the mileage

from Seattle to New York
And when I heard about the divorce of my friends,
I couldn't help but be proud of them,

that man and that woman setting off in different directions,
like pilgrims in a proverb

—him to buy his very own toaster oven, 
her seeking a prescription for sleeping pills.

Let us keep in mind the hidden forces
which had
There are people who do not see a broken playground swing
as a symbol of ruined childhood

and there are people who don't interpret the behavior
of a fly in a motel room as a mocking representation of their thought process.

There are people who don't walk past an empty swimming pool
and think about past