Friday, February 5, 2010

Pop Art and Tony Hoagland's Poetry

This month, Tony Hoagland’s newest book of poems, "Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty," is finally hitting bookstore shelves. It’s been seven years since his last! Of course in our hyper accelerated everything world that only sounds like a long time. Anyway, his books are worth the wait. I just ordered mine. While The New York Times was not clapping with all four hands in its review, I can hardly wait.

As I was browsing the forever engrossing Pop Art section of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, I couldn’t help thinking about why I like Hoagland’s work. Like Pop Art, Tony Hoagland’s poems appropriate reality, pop culture, combine found objects with the constructed. Also like Pop Art, Hoagland’s poems are sleek, sexy, funny, sometimes sad, utilizing a seemingly accessible façade to convey political and emotional messages. His poems, in my mind, are commentaries on the state of poetry as well as being poetry.

Here’s Hoagland’s take on contemporary grocery storing (as excerpted from the NYT review) from a poem called "Dialectical Materialism." I included Tom Wesselman’s painting/collage called Still Life #30 above so you could see some of what I encountered at MOMA.

My god there is so much sorrow in the grocery store!
You would have to be high
on the fumes of the piped-in pan flutes
                      of commodified Peruvian folk music

not to be driven practically crazy
with awe and shame,
not to weep at the scale of subjected matter:

the ripped-up etymologies of kiwi fruit and bratwurst,
the roads paved with dead languages,
the jungles digested by foreign money.

Whether it’s Tony Hoagland, or Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Tom Wesselman, Jasper Johns or Robert Rauschenberg, et al, close readings reveal multiple messages, not all of them easy.

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