poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

September 28, 2006Dodge Poetry FestivalFrom the Academy Audio Archive

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.

Lucky

Tony Hoagland, 1953
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 and rinsed 
her belly and her chest, 
the sorry ruin of her flanks 
and the frayed gray cloud 
between her legs.

Some nights, sitting by her bed 
book open in my lap 
while I listened to the air
move thickly in and out of her dark lungs, 
my mind filled up with praise 
as lush as music,

amazed at the symmetry and luck 
that would offer me the chance to pay 
my heavy debt of punishment and love 
with love and punishment.

And once I held her dripping wet 
in the uncomfortable air 
between the wheelchair and the tub, 
until she begged me like a child

to stop, 
an act of cruelty which we both understood
was the ancient irresistible rejoicing 
of power over weakness.

If you are lucky in this life, 
you will get to raise the spoon 
of pristine, frosty ice cream 
to the trusting creature mouth 
of your old enemy

because the tastebuds at least are not broken 
because there is a bond between you 
and sweet is sweet in any language.

© Copyright 1998 by Tony Hoagland. Used from Donkey Gospel with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org

© Copyright 1998 by Tony Hoagland. Used from Donkey Gospel with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. All rights reserved. www.graywolfpress.org

Tony Hoagland

Tony Hoagland

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

by this poet

poem
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
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