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What Narcissism Means to Me: Poems Paperback – November 1, 2003

4.8 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

"How did I come to believe in a government called Tony Hoagland?/ with an economy based on flattery and self-protection?" How indeed. In Hoagland's third collection, as in the previous two, his speaker devotes considerable energy to unmasking this vulnerable self, revealing its ugliness, hatred and social sensitivity in articulate detail. A typical poem begins masochistically: " `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.' "-and then goes on to concede, perhaps predictably, that "anyway, she was right about me...." In milder poems, which often revolve around eating dinner, drinking wine and hanging out with friends (typically other creative writing professors), he explores a more social self, slipping into a "he said, she said" mode, and reporting at great length on friends' witticisms: "Kath says February is always like eating a raw egg;/ Peter says it's like wearing a bandage on your head; / Mary says it's like a pack of wild dogs who have gotten into medical waste,/ and smiles because she clearly is the winner." Hoagland funnels 21st-century corporate detritus into his more Whitmanesque impulses, in which he begins to explore a sweeping and explicitly American identity oriented by Radio Shacks and K marts. His attempts to branch out with satires of anthropological reportage, particularly about black people, can be somewhat embarrassing: "Black for me is a country/ more foreign than China or Vagina,/ more alarming than going down Niagara on Viagra...." Readers will probably prefer the poems about sitting alone in a room or drinking wine with Dean Young.
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Review

Praise for "Donkey Gospel: "[Tony Hoagland's] poetry of cultural irony, contemporary sexuality, and the absurdities of the rock-and-roll generation leave us with a satisfied feeling of having ridden out a storm."
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 78 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press (2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555973868
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555973865
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.3 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #339,583 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Y. Zemmel on June 11, 2004
Format: Paperback
While taking a poetry class from Mark Jarman, I had the chance to hear Tony Hoagland read selections from this, his newest book, as well as selections from Donkey Gospel, along with some unpublished works. If at all possible, hear this man read his poetry--it is incomparable and surprisingly refreshing. I usually don't like poetry readings, but after hearing some of these poems, I ended up buying two of his books, and they haven't ceased to amaze me yet. This poetry is not afraid of mentioning such common things as a "kissy-face," and at the same time, not afraid to confront the emotions tied to being a human being.
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Format: Paperback
for the past year or so i have been making an attempt to become a fan of poetry. there have been some ups and many downs. but i am now pleased to give a shout out to a poet i can honestly call my first favorite. tony hoagland's the name. smart with words, this fella. sad stuff & funny stuff, & stuff to make one think about the old life. and a genius who avoids pretension i would say, and will say: a genius who avoids pretension. not one reference to greek mythology in these poems (thank God!) as far as i can recall. intelligent straightforward and a joy to read. he riffs with words like john coltrane does with music, free from cliche, hitting unexpected places: places that are either fun or a revelation to visit. i loved this book, as well as his equally great "sweet ruin." i suggest that you read this man's work.
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Format: Paperback
I tried reading one of the poems over the phone to my friend but it just didn't work. You really have to read the words yourself to get the true genius of it. Do you love spite, self-deprecation, a beautiful observation and a good joke? Then this is for you.
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The first thing I noticed about Tony Hoagland's poetry is his fearless approach to the blunt truth. With censorship still a touchy literary topic, questions stir in my mind from leading lines like "Black for me is a country / more foreign than China of Vagina" directly proceeding two poems with extremely angry overtones, "Hate Hotel" and "Fire". He is a poet truly in touch with and in an understanding of his feelings, with the skills to create his raw, uncensored emotions in our own experiences.
Some of my favorite poems are "Phone Call", in which Hoagland's speaker realizes the sadness of his father's life and the impact that the speaker's harsh words have on the now-frail man's spirit; "Appetite", in which the speaker's thoughts trail away from the restraint table and through a series of visually surreal images that reflect that ominous presence that is death-in-wait; and "America", in which Hoagland confronts his own questions about American capitalism while still being true enough to admit his own weaknesses against it - "And yet it seems to be your own hand / Which turns the volume higher?"
This honesty and fearlessness is empowering and refreshing. Hoagland uses shared experiences and actualities to encourage his reader to question their everyday actions and beliefs. Questions of homosexuality, capitalism, political correctness, and racism appear throughout this collection and force me, as a reader, to take Hoagland's hand and dwell within my own confusion and uncertainties.
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What Narcissism Means To Me is an honest and artful way of presenting Tony Hoagland's world with certainty, sincerity and wit. His poems often are unyielding self-criticisms of his character as a whole, yet he manages to find the humor in the process and findings of his search. Hoagland's poems are bursting with personal details and introspection, yet while peering into the depths of his own psyche, he opens his observations up to the rest of our society. While examining the self, he wound up examining the universal themes of what it means to be an American today. It is not a necessarily a celebration of America; but rather an acknowledgement of Americans themselves which beg their own appreciation. The title is best explained in the poems "Narcissus Lullaby" and "What Narcissism Means To Me". In "Lullaby", Hoagland describes the joy of knowing (actually just suspecting) that someone is thinking about you. In "What Narcissism Means To Me", he compares self-love to hamburgers, "delicious but unhealthy, / or, depending on your perspective, / unhealthy but delicious." Hoagland would say if its narcissistic to want to be loved, then so be it - bring it on with all the calories, fat and grease - it tastes good. There is no shame or weakness in it; we are narcissistic beings and it is a statement of fact. Embrace those qualities that make us human rather than tear it apart as a character flaw. It is amazing what humans are capable of; living this life of constant struggle for beauty, art, and love. Tony Hoagland revels in this struggle and honors it with What Narcissism Means To Me.
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I was very pleasantly surprised with the eloquent simplicity of the verse in Tony Hoagland's, "What Narcissism Means to Me." Hoagland writes like people talk. His works are both easy to read and deep. You don't have to be an English Lit major to understand what he is communicating. In fact, I originally purchased this book for myself but after reading the first two pieces in the book, I gave a copy to a friend who neither reads or writes poetry because it reminded me of how he thinks/communicates himself, and he loved it immediately. I think this is not only poetry for the poet but the layman. This is poetry for people who think they don't like poetry. Excellent*****
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