Tuesday, June 19, 2007

'Nothing that was done to me was ever real'

It is far too late for me to be up right now, but I thought I'd make a pass at at least setting up why Tony Hoagland's poetry has intrigued me lately. First of all, it's that deceptive, conversational voice. The speaker talks directly to the audience, in a diction and syntax that seem remarkably close to ordinary speech, yet have a balance and rhythm not found in much of what we hear on an every day basis. Deceptive because the speaker appears to be talking about 'ordinary' events, yet metaphors, conceits, and allegories of a sort are embedded therein.

Deceptive because I'm not always sure how the reader is supposed to take or trust the aphoristic statements that Hoagland is fond of making. These are statements that bear the imprint of truth, but like any aphorism, we can't be sure that it is truth, or some other utterance masquerading as truth. Are the aphoristic statements in Hoagland's poetry red herrings? Or are they the emotional core of the poem? Do they deflect our attention in a round about way from the situational ethos of the poem, the characterizations, etc? Do they complicate them.

Two poems in particular from Donkey Gospel have caught my attention, and I don't know that I'll be fully able to analyze them tonight. I think I can just lay out the sections and work on analyzing them later.

The first passage is from "Cry Me a River," which is a sort of allegory, an allegory heavy on the symbolic end, and less clear on the representational end. It takes its cues from the presentation of folk tales--specifically ones about/by the Chinese. It's a complex poem with the simple facade of a folk narrative, but one in which the 5 Chinese brothers 'of legend' alternate with an unnamed speaker in an uncertain setting. I am particularly drawn to the aphoristic statements in the following passages:

"Has anyone had a normal life?
That we could use as reference?
Trying to imagine that is like trying to imagine
what it would be like to be smarter than you are."


"And the first brother, who had been listening closely,
said, 'I can hear the future coming toward us,
and I think that where we come from
doesn't matter anymore."

So I'll leave it there for tonight. The second poem is the last section of "Arrows," whose indentations Blogger will screw up for me:

"In the famous painting, the saint
looks steadfastly heavenward,
away from the physical indignity below,
the fascinating spectacle
of his own body
bristling with arrows;
he looks up
as if he were already adamantly elsewhere,
exerting that power of denial
the soul is famous for,
that ability to say, 'None of this is real:

Nothing that happened here on earth
and who I thought I was,
and nothing that I did or that was done to me,
was ever real."

Let me think on this.

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