‘What Narcissism Means To Me’ poems by Tony Hoagland (2003) – 78 pages
No, this is not an autobiography by Donald Trump. Instead it is a fourteen year-old book of poems by Tony Hoagland. Why did I read this? There are three reasons: 1) I was tremendously impressed with Hoagland’s book of poems from 2015, ‘Application for Release from the Dream’ 2) This Narcissism title is one of the cleverest book titles that I have ever encountered, 3) When I find a poet whose poems make sense to me and which I enjoy, I want to continue with their work.
I will start with some lines from the poem “Patience” in the book which are a quote from his girlfriend at the time who is “running wild, cutting loose in an epileptic fit of telling the truth”. She gives him “a mixture of good advice and slow-acting poison” :
“Success is the worst possible thing that could happen
to a man like you,” she said,
“because the shiny shoes, and flattery
and the self-
lubricating slime of affluence would mean
you’d never have to face your failure as a human being.”
Now this is some really mean criticism this guy gets from this girlfriend, and I hope he didn’t wind up marrying her. But these lines did win me over to the poet’s side, because I also have gotten this kind of severe criticism from an old girlfriend in the past. I would call this irrevocable criticism. Hoagland ends the poem with the following lines:
“I knew that if I could succeed at being demolished, I could succeed at anything.”
These lines do show two facets of the poet’s style; the poems are conversational and casual, yet they deal with strong emotions.
Now that I’ve read two books of poems by Tony Hoagland, which of the two did I like the best? I do believe that the later collection, ‘Application for Release from the Dream’ , is the stronger more direct work, but still nearly every poem in this earlier book, ‘What Narcissism’, has lines that I like.
I will finish with the first six lines from the poem “How It Adds Up”:
“There was the day we swam in a river, a lake, and an ocean.
And the day I quit the job my father got me.
And the day I stood outside the door,
And listened to my girlfriend making love
To someone obviously not me, inside,
And I felt strange because I didn’t care.”
I wonder if it was his same girlfriend in both poems.