Jul 29, 2012

Tony Hoagland, Stephen Dunn, and What's Memorable



Let me begin with something I said in the Visitor Comments last time. I find Stephen Dunn’s work unusually consistent, especially for a poet so prolific. I'm not sure I've ever seen work by him that I thought was bad, though I have of course liked some poems better than others.

On the other hand, I can't offer a single Stephen Dunn title off the top of my head. Some of the poems feel important and powerful as I read them or hear him read (two or three times), but I'm not called back to them the way I am to many poems, and I don’t know why that’s the case. Is it a comment on the poems or on me?



Here is the popular Tony Hoagland's "Don't Tell Anyone," which might be comparable to Dunn’s “Here and Now” in looking at love in maturity—unspectacular love in an unspectacular situation, but also love that becomes spectacular because it continues to discover something new, important, alarming and sad, while remaining grounded in the everyday.

Don’t Tell Anyone by Tony Hoagland : Poetry Magazine
If I end up remembering Hoagland’s “Don’t Tell Anyone” better than Dunn’s “Here and Now,” that alone doesn’t mean I find Hoagland’s poem better than Dunn’s—just more sticky-brain (probably), which might mean Yeatsian elegance or greasy kids' stuff. 

So help, please. Weigh in on this business of being memorable, whether the subject is poems' phrasing and poignant images, or people, places or events in your own lives.  Also feel free to explain me to me in relation to these two poems and memorability.
The Crooked Beak of Psychology

Don’t Tell Anyone by Tony Hoagland : Poetry Magazine

16 comments:

Stickup Artist said...

I like both, but personally accept the underwater and swimming visual more than the darkened, incense laden church. Neither one is pretentious or preachy or know-it-all. Which is nice when coming from people who really know stuff. Both are cool and liberating. But one is cool in the darkness, the other in crystal clear turquoise colored pool water. Maybe it’s because I’m in the grip of a hot desert summer and the pool is my salvation. “Maybe everyone is screaming as they go through life, silently,” gripped me to my core. I have to appreciate that widening of perspective and level of empathy. Then again, “two mortals, say, on a resilient bed,making a small case for themselves” is pretty awesome too.

Banjo52 said...

And, Stickup, you're making a pretty good case for not being able to choose. Welcome to the club. Also, I like your selection of quotations to love.

Jean Spitzer said...

Love the photos.

Not only did I like the poem, I am thinking about whether it's possible to scream underwater while doing laps. Though I don't think I'll be trying it any time soon, I hope.

I don't feel like screaming when I am swimming.

Birdman said...

I agree. I like Dunn's stuff and there are many that fall into that category. Like watching a merry-go-round. I lose touch, but when they come around again, I say ah... this is one I like.

Banjo52 said...

Jean, nothing ventured, nothing gained :) But I've never tried it either (that I can remember).

SA, Jean, Birdman, I wonder if our fascination with the swim-scream in a turquoise pool amounts to a central, controlling image we think we know. So it grabs us more than Dunn's several "merely good" and more subtle images and perhaps more complex ideas do.

I like Birdman's comparison to a merry-go-round. There's a lot of talk in poetry circles now about a poem's turn, or its several turns, and that's not unlike a carousel. Both of these poems have turns, but maybe Dunn's has severak, while Hoagland's is more a matter of milking only or two core ideas that are almost violent. Does that make any sense?

Good stuff, folks. Thank you--though I hope we're not finished.

Brenda's Arizona said...

I hope I am not in trouble for saying that "Here and Now" was more difficult to read. It was like diagramming something where I didn't know what the final picture was to look like.

But Hoagland's poem - paints a picture. No, a movie. I could sure feel the water encasing me as if I were the one diving in the water. I pictured trying to scream while swimming... is that possible? I just figured that she has been swimming and screaming for years - much longer than the 6-7 years of their marriage... And the defined ritual of 22 laps made it a concrete image.

OK, back to my cave, to scream!

Brenda's Arizona said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pasadena Adjacent said...

You can scream and swim at the same time. What I don't know is, if anyone else can hear you above or below water.

I like the simplicity of Hoaglands poem, but I understand the depth (pun not intended) of Dunn's more intimately. And though Hoagland's ending packed a punch, I wanted to argue with it.

Banjo52 said...

BA, I like your comparison to diagramming. In turn, how does that compare to Birdman's idea about a merry-go-round? At any rate, we seem to agree that Dunn has the complexity while Hoagland has the power or brute force. Yes?

BA and PA, now that I've tried harder to remember my pool years, I think my buddies and I might have horsed around with screaming at each other and could hear something, very muffled. Or is that one of them there false memories? Of course it's not at all the same as Hoagland's wife's scream, which I think we're supposed to find haunting--and I do.

I'm a little surprised that I'm only now thinking about Munch's painting "The Scream" . . . Any connection?

Banjo52 said...

BA, I like your comparison to diagramming. In turn, how does that compare to Birdman's idea about a merry-go-round? At any rate, we seem to agree that Dunn has the complexity while Hoagland has the power or brute force. Yes?

BA and PA, now that I've tried harder to remember my pool years, I think my buddies and I might have horsed around with screaming at each other and could hear something, very muffled. Or is that one of them there false memories? Of course it's not at all the same as Hoagland's wife's scream, which I think we're supposed to find haunting--and I do.

I'm a little surprised that I'm only now thinking about Munch's painting "The Scream" . . . Any connection?

Hannah Stephenson said...

Hoagland's poem has a lot of weird specificity in it...it has a defined story and characters, right?

Dunn's poem (which I also like) is more of an idea poem....we are hanging out in a room with him while he thinks through this idea.

In Hoagland's poem---we know exactly when and where we are. He has something he needs to tell us...the urgency is more explicit, I think.

Some poets are just more slippery than others. We can enjoy and appreciate what they write, but maybe their voice is so similar (strong?) from poem to poem that the boundaries of poems blur.

Really interesting discussion!!

Banjo52 said...

Hannah, I'm fine with all that, maybe Paragraph 2 especially. Pardon any judgmental language, but I've worried before that flashy, witty poets (for example, Hoagland, Collins, Addonizio, D. Kirby) will leave people like Dunn in the dust, especially as public readings proliferate and audiences dig razzmatazz.

My own jury is honestly still out on these two poems "versus" each other, but in this discussion the topic has expanded to something like two kinds of poems that reflect two ways of being on the page and in the mind. I'm fine with Hoagland's home run, but I worry that the quieter, thoughtful Dunns of the world will be left in the dugout because they lack neon, don't do a strip tease.

That's silly in this case, since Dunn is probably at least as acclaimed as Hoagland, but if we take the issue beyond these two poets or especially if we take it beyond poetry . . . . I was going to say Pluggers lose, but I'm not about to call Stephen Dunn a plugger.

At what point had I said more than enough? Sorry. Thanks, Hannah. And for the Creeley title too.

altadenahiker said...

"Consistent?" Talk about damning with faint praise.

This is the only Dunn poem I know. Would familiarity breed contempt?

The words tread so lightly, gently on loss and loyalty. When the best bits fall away, the sort of people who have something, somthing I lack, to stay around for what remains. The poem is about a promise.

Dunn, all the way. The other poem is just a lot of angst to me. And kind of patronizing.

RuneE said...

Both have a dark side, but Hoagland's tells me that we all need to be alone, to have out secrets - in the way we choose, and until we are ready to tell them. And also to be respected for it by those who wait patiently to be told.

Dunn's were more difficult - and more dull. And without that respect.

Kudos for the photos!

Banjo52 said...

AH and Rune, I don't mean to sound like a spineless diplomat, but I absolutely see why each of you is saying what you say. That's part or all of the reason I put the two poems together.

AH, I didn't mean to say ANYTHING along the lines of Dunn's consistency being his only virtue. In a lot of the big name poets, past and present, I find the quality of the poems wildly erratic. Dunn has NOT seemed erratic to me. That's all I meant to say.

Hollyridge Press said...

Here's Tony Hoagland's new chapbook, titled, Don't Tell Anyone: http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/098431007X/welcometoholl-20

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