Through the catalog of his friends and acquaintances, through the "rivers of bright merchandise" upon which "you are floating in your pleasure boat," Hoagland always comes back to ground us in a particular moment, to remind us of our place and time. Usually an image, deceptively simple, rises out of a narrative moment, and the image becomes the place where we can find the poetry. "The News," a poem late in What Narcissism Means to Me, begins with a geopolitical summary that sounds familiar enough: "The big country beat the little country up / like a schoolyard bully, / so an even bigger country stepped in / and knocked it on its ass." This leads to certain memories of childhood that make up most of the poem, ". . . the terrible things that happen to you / and the terrible things that you yourself make happen." And that prompts thoughts of a tattoo, one of those things we do to ourselves:
| Yet the only tattoo I want |
is of a fist and rose, together.
Fist, that helps you survive.
Rose, without which
you have no reason to.
Here again, his poem finds resolution in a statement that we find we can't disagree with.
Tony Hoagland reads from his poetry at Davidson Hall on the U-M Central Campus on Thursday, November 18.
[Originally published in November, 2004.]