Real Sofistikashun Paperback – Sep 19 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Hoagland's third book of poetry, the flirtatiously-titled What Narcissism Means to Me (2005), established him as one of the smarter, and funnier, poets of his generation, well balanced between absurdity and confession; those strengths are on show in this first gathering of prose, which lands him midway between academic analysis and off-the-cuff observations on his art. Some pieces have appeared in journals as polemical essays. Others sound composed for the lecture hall, and none are simply book reviews. Instead, Hoagland offers strong opinions about such matters as the virtues of variable diction; the uses and limits of unconscious, intuitively inspired, metaphor (with particular reference to Larry Levis); and the origins of that nonnarrative, disjunctive form which Hoagland dubs "the skittery poem of our moment." Occasionally his remarks don't compute ("Tone is most visible when it is at an angle"); more often they will help many young writers. Hoagland (who teaches in the prestigious writing program at the University of Houston) uses recent poetry to illustrate most of his ideas-from much-laureled figures such as Louise Gluck and Robert Pinsky to such lesser known and slightly younger writers like Laura Kasischke and Jason Shinder. He works less as an advocate for particular poets and poems than as a teacher of poetic craft, at times recommending a focus on person, place and thing, and elsewhere advocating a remarkable, not-entirely-conscious mode of writing in which "language is energized, dilates, balloons, proliferates and begins to write us."
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About the Author
TONY HOAGLAND is the author of three poetry collections, including What Narcissism Means to Me, finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Donkey Gospel, winner of the James Laughlin Award. He teaches at the University of Houston.
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This last point is very refreshing to see, for the trap of the basic contradictory action of writing exposition about creative writing is often to dictate or at least suggest conscious focus on the complexities of writing poetry, and all too often essays about poetry writing become flat shells about a very multi-dimensional process. Hoagland resists the impulse to prescribe, if it ever comes to him at all, and instead celebrates the end effects of wonderful poetry. When he does discuss the creation of poetry, he is an advocate of student-mind and fresh outlooks and the ability to change and adapt, as he does in his essays about particular poets like Pinsky and Gluck. Hoagland also defines well the pleasures of schools like language poetry and its energetic playfulness, but identifies fairly where they fall short of being thoroughly satisfying.
But don't take all of this as an impression that the book is stuffy and overly academic. Hoagland maintains a sense of humor through this book, keeping his language accessible and familiar.
Though I sometimes quibbled with Hoagland's choices of poets worthy of very particular attention in their own essays, and in the end I was no more of a fan of the work of these poets than before his praise of them, this sequence of essays will be enlightening to those familiar with the art of poetry. Though this book may prove a little more difficult for those without as much experience already in the craft of poetry, it is worth a slow, deliberate read.
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