01 January 2011

Hard Rain by Tony Hoagland

Hard Rain
Chapbook, 39 pages
Hollyridge Press
ISBN: 0-9772298-2-3

Link to Purchase

Reviewed by Joan Hanna
Hard Rain by Tony Hoagland is like having a conversation over a bottle of wine after everyone has left the restaurant with a poet that tells his reader straight out what he sees around him. This collection seems to pull the ironic, the emblematic and the absurdity out of everyday events.

“Responsibility in Metaphor” is a whirling, cadenced gathering of metaphors that skip off the page:
When I say she looked at me like a motel looking at a highway,
I mean the light was on above her parking lot.
I mean I could see the pink neon of the vacancy sign
                                             All the way from the off-ramp.
In Dialectical Materialism, Hoagland juxtaposes a supermarket trip with the convergence of the world around us and the reader realizes that there is more to us than the small chores to which we relegate all of our concentrated attention:
I was thinking about dialectical materialism at the supermarket,
strolling among the Chilean tomatoes and the Pilipino pineapples
admiring the Washington state apples stacked in perfect pyramid displays
by the ebony man from Zimbabwe wearing the Chicago bulls t-shirt.
I was seeing the whole produce section
                                    as a system of cross-referenced signifiers
In a textbook of historical economics
Hoagland’s use of space and long lines pulls the reader into the cadence so that we can see the world through his expanding eye. He reaches to bring the outside world into our small spaces and forces us to acknowledge that there is a big looming world out there that hinges on our everyday lives, whether we want to see it or not.

In “Romantic Moment” the colors and sights that extend from the opening line of “After seeing a nature documentary” so the reader and then, once, Hoagland pushes the contrasts between animal, nature and human boundaries:
It is just our second date, and we sit down on a bench,
holding hands, not looking at each other,
and if I were a bull penguin right now I would lean over
and vomit softly into the mouth of my beloved
and if I were a peacock I’d flex my gluteal muscles to
erect and spread the quills of my cinemax tail.
We move from the seemingly soft afternoon into the rituals of mating across a vast set of animal comparisons until finally the humanness returns to the day:
Then she suggests that it is time for us to go
to get some ice cream cones and eat them.
The reader sees the restrained awkwardness between the couple on a date in contrast to the natural world and ends the poem wishing there were a more instinctual way for humans to interact.

In “Breaking Up Is Hard To Do” Hoagland approaches the subject of breakups, not in a sentimental way, but in an everyday casualness that reflects how we move on quickly in our everyday lives:
On Friday afternoon David said he was divesting his holdings
                  in Stephanie dot org.
And Cindy announced that she was getting rid of all her Dan-obelia,
                  And did anyone want a tennis racket or cardigan?
But the casualness with which he handles these occurrences shifts at the end of the poem when the emotion behind the action is revealed:
That’s how you find out:
out of the blue.
And it hurts, baby, it really hurts,
Because breaking up is hard to do.
But for me, “Hard Rain” is the poem that illustrates the disintegration of meaning. That the context is lost the further we get from the actual experience:
After I heard It’s a hard Rain’s A-gonna Fallplayed softly by an accordion quartet
though the ceiling speakers at the Springdale Shopping Mall,
I understood there’s nothing
we can’t pluck the stinger from,
nothing we can’t turn into a soft drink flavor or a t-shirt.

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