If you’re tired of empty phrases like “Build a Wall” and “Make America Great Again,” you might consider Tony Hoagland’s America for respite. At least you’d be a realist, and at most a decent judge of political poetry.
Tony Hoagland’s view of America is subtle, though. No in-your-face pronouncements. Just creative and philosophical riffs that seem to be written in the key of how-did-we-get-here?
Here are two examples, one an older poem and one from his most recent collection, Application for Release from the Dream. First, the more famous older one:
I like the idea of America’s walls consisting of Radio Shacks and Burger Kings and MTV episodes. And of fathers being stabbed and bleeding Benjamins instead of blood. A Goldman Sachs America, then. “My plutocracy, t’is of thee/Sweet Land of Money Trees,/of Thee I write,” and all that.
Note, too, the all-important “your own hand” in the penultimate line. Americans as accessories to the crime. Yes, even protesting Americans, ones who miss the inherent hypocrisies of commercialism and comfort.
And here’s a link to Hoagland’s more recent effort as published in the New Ohio Review. It’s called “Ode to the Republic” and contemplates the rewards of not being number one among nations, or considering yourself to be number one among nations: “But now at last the end of our dynasty has arrived / and I feel humble and calm and curiously free.”
Disturbing? Maybe. But the feeling may be coming sooner than you think, and Tony Hoagland’s America may prove preferable to the one stumbling along like a late Roman Empire on a bender right now.
As Hoagland puts it: “There are worse things than being second burrito.”
Amen and pass the sour cream.