A New Strategy for Reading and Writing about Current Poetry

‘Application for Release from the Dream’ poems by Tony Hoagland   (2015) – 81 pages


Who could not like a poet who named a previous collection ‘What Narcissism Means to Me’ ?

My old strategy for reading and reviewing poetry collections was to find a positive review of a single collection and then read that collection.  Too many times I discovered that I absolutely did not want to write about the selected collection due to my own lack of interest.  The collection wasn’t necessarily bad; it just did not captivate me.  Each person’s response to a set of poems is terribly individual.  Just because one writer’s poems do not interest me does not mean that someone else will not devour them hungrily.

I only want to review collections to which I have a positive reaction.  Therefore I don’t even mention the ones that I discarded due to my own lack of enthusiasm.

So I came up with a new strategy.

This time I started with four books of poems by different authors.  All four of these books showed up on ‘Best of Year’ lists for 2015.  Despite their being on the year-end lists, I figured that I would probably be enthused by at most only two of them enough to write about them.

I had hoped to find two books of poems that I really liked so that I could compare and contrast.  However it turns out that of the four, only one book made the grade by totally spurring my interest and enthusiasm.  Fortunately I consider that one book a mighty fine one indeed. I don’t want to overdo the praise, but ‘Application for Release from the Dream’ by Tony Hoagland is a humorous penetrating down-to-earth book of poetry.

Here are a few lines from his poem called “Misunderstanding” that I particularly like.

“All those years I kept trying and failing and trying
to find my one special talent in this life –

Why did it take me so long to figure out
that my special talent was trying?”

Clever, honest, and insightful.  What more can one ask from a poet?  That same poem has the following lines.

 “When I compared humanity to a flower growing in the shadow of a munitions factory,
it may be that I was being unfair to flowers.”

In his poem “A History of High Heels” he considers the wearing of high heels by women and their effect on him.

       “Because today is one of those days when I am starting to suspect

That sex was just a wild goose chase

In which I honk-honk-honked away

Three quarters of my sweet unconscious life.”

Nearly every poem in this collection has lines I would like to quote, but I won’t.  It is quite unusual for me to be captivated by nearly every poem in a collection like I am here, even when I’m reading masters like Philip Larkin, Robert Frost, and Emily Dickinson.   Throughout this collection, Hoagland’s outlook is quirky and original in a way that I can appreciate.

Of the countless lines I would like to quote, I will end with these from “Wasp”.

“a human being should have a warning label on the side
that says, Beware: Disorganized Narrative Inside;
prone to frequent sideways bursting

of one feeling through another”



Grade: A


4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kaggsysbookishramblings on January 17, 2016 at 12:08 PM

    Poetry *is* an extraordinarily personal thing, and I tend not to persevere if I don’t respond on an emotional level, so I think you may have hit on a good working method!


    • Hi kaggsy,
      It usually only takes a few poems to determine whether or not a poet is reaching me, so it isn’t that much trouble to go through a few collections instead of just one.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve not read Hoagland before but you have just convinced me that I should! This sounds great and the fact that you wanted to quote something from nearly every poem speaks volumes.


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