Friday, December 01, 2006

America by Tony Hoagland

“America” is from Tony Hoagland’s recent book What Narcissism Means to Me (I love that title). There’s something of the Beats in this poem—its criticism of American society; its sprawl; its stream-of consciousness quality—and unless I’m mistaken, the entire poem is, technically, one sentence. A lot narrative poets use this sort of fast, stream-of-consciousness style to inject personality and keep the energy up in a poem. Here, it suits the poem’s subject matter (rampant technology and materialism) well.

by Tony Hoagland

Then one of the students with blue hair and a tongue stud
Says that America is for him a maximum-security prison

Whose walls are made of RadioShacks and Burger Kings, and MTV episodes
Where you can’t tell the show from the commercials,

And as I consider how to express how full of shit I think he is,
He says that even when he’s driving to the mall in his Isuzu

Trooper with a gang of his friends, letting rap music pour over them
Like a boiling Jacuzzi full of ballpeen hammers, even then he feels

Buried alive, captured and suffocated in the folds
Of the thick satin quilt of America

And I wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain,
or whether he is just spin doctoring a better grade,

And then I remember that when I stabbed my father in the dream last night,
It was not blood but money

That gushed out of him, bright green hundred-dollar bills
Spilling from his wounds, and—this is the weird part—,

He gasped “Thank god—those Ben Franklins were
Clogging up my heart—

And so I perish happily,
Freed from that which kept me from my liberty”—

Which was when I knew it was a dream, since my dad
Would never speak in rhymed couplets,

And I look at the student with his acne and cell phone and phony ghetto clothes
And I think, “I am asleep in America too,

And I don’t know how to wake myself either,”
And I remember what Marx said near the end of his life:

“I was listening to the cries of the past,
When I should have been listening to the cries of the future.”

But how could he have imagined 100 channels of 24-hour cable
Or what kind of nightmare it might be

When each day you watch rivers of bright merchandise run past you
And you are floating in your pleasure boat upon this river

Even while others are drowning underneath you
And you see their faces twisting in the surface of the waters

And yet it seems to be your own hand
Which turns the volume higher?

Tony Hoagland, born in 1953 in Fort Bragg, North Carolina, is the author of numerous books of poetry. He currently teaches at the University of Houston.


Blogger Aaron said...

As for the speaker of the poem, his first thought was the right one.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I love the phrase "boiling Jacuzzi full of ballpeen hammers." It is a disturbing image to contrast those who are on the pleasure boat and those who are drowning. I think that's very true, as we consider especially this month the chasm between the haves and the have-nots.

7:29 PM  
Blogger GDAEman said...

You might find this collection to be relevant. They're all entitled The American Way

2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant Aaron, nothing says "I understand humankind and poetry" better then a totally one-sided and closed minded comment like that.

You are clearly a prodigy of poetic misunderstanding.

3:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When I first read this poem, I totally agreed with the writer and first thought, but as I read it again, the student actually puts the best emphasis on America's heart and soul.

1:53 PM  
Anonymous Barbara (LaFleur) Ward Nicar said...

I like your poems. They're certainly interesting. Barbara LaFleur

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My class at school is actually reading this poem in class. I have read it multiples of times. I find it very interesting to read. But then my teacher shot us a question
Q:How is the theme social consciousness present in the text?
Good question but i couldn't answer it. Maybe you all can

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