Rhyme and reason: Hoagland on exerting ‘the focusing power of poetry’


Renowned poet Tony Hoagland returns to Maine next week, to the state he called home for more than a decade and one he returns to each summer.

“The place has become cool,” Hoagland said of Portland from his Texas home this week. He teaches in the creative writing program at the University of Houston. “Like Boulder or Phoenix or any place that becomes gentrified and then gets bohemian credentials, it becomes a magnet.”

Hoagland is drawn back on this occasion to kick off The Words Matter visiting poets series launched by Maine Poetry Central and The Portland Poet Laureate Program.

Initiated by current and former Portland Poets Laureate Marcia F. Brown (2013-2015) and Bruce Spang (2011-2013), The Words Matter is a “public literary arts program to bring nationally recognized poets to Portland, to read at a large-scale venue, to allow as many people as possible to hear great poetry read by master poets in person,” according to Brown. “Each visitor is hosted by a Maine poet or poets who share the stage at the event and moderate and on-stage conversation with the poet following the reading.”

Maine Poetry Central is a nonprofit organization that advances awareness and enjoyment of poetry in Maine. This year, they welcome high school finalists from the Poetry Out Loud national slam poetry contest.

Hoagland is a plum choice for the series’ first poet. His books include What Narcissism Means to Me and Donkey Gospel, as well as two other poetry collections and two collections of essays about poetry and poetics. His work has received the Poetry Foundation’s Mark Twain Award for Humor in Poetry, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Jackson Poetry Prize, the James Laughlin Award, and the O.B. Hardisson Prize for teaching. He also runs Five Powers of Poetry seminars for teachers.

Hoagland has longstanding ties to the Maine poetry community, having lived in Waterville from 1990 to 2003. He taught at Colby College and the University of Maine at Farmington. Now that he’s in Texas, the challenges and opportunities of teaching poetry at an MFA program continue to present themselves.

“Well, it’s a self-selection process. The students have already identified themselves as writers,” he said. “I’m trying to do two things. One, cultivate their discriminating intelligences and give them time to practice; and two — considering the way American culture is these days, so fragmented and driven by merchandising — help create a monastic community — a guild — where, for three years, they are immersed with people who have no doubt that poetry is the best thing in the world.”

Hoagland has returned to Maine each summer for the past five years to take part in the “Great Mother” conference, founded by Robert Bly. This year’s conference, from May 30 to June 7 in Damariscotta, marks the 41st year that bards of all beats have gathered by the lake to share poems, stories, songs, stars and reflections. Before Hoagland gets to relax in Maine’s great outdoors, he’ll speak in the city about why words matter, with Colby College professor Peter Harris, following his reading.

Hoagland’s poems have been widely anthologized and published. His collection Twenty Poems That Could Save America and Other Essays was published last month. The title essay was published in Harper's Magazine Online, and was reviewed on National Public Radio’s Lehrer Report.

Hoagland will be at Hannaford Hall of the Abromson Center at the University of Southern Maine on Thursday, April 16, at 7 p.m. Maine Poetry Central and the Portland Poet Laureate Program are offering discounted tickets to students, members of the Portland Writers Group (from meetup.com), and Stonecoast MFA students and alumni. Hoagland’s visit is made possible by help from H. M. Payson, Honeck-O’Toole, and Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance. There will be a cocktail reception with the poet for all advance tickets holders at 6 p.m. Visit www.mainepoetrycentral.com or call 207-780-5960 for more information and to purchase tickets ($25; $15.) For more information on Hoagland, visit http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/tony-hoagland.

National Poetry Month and all that jazz

The Portland Conservatory of Music and Dimensions in Jazz celebrate National Poetry Month with two great shows. On Saturday, April 18, guitarist Gary Wittner, poet Betsy Sholl, and saxophonist Jimmy Cameron will blend poetry and jazz at the Meloon Chapel at Woodfords Church, 202 Woodford St. in Portland. And on Friday, April 24, Mark Tipton’s Les Sorciers Perdus, perform with poets Gil Helmick, Russ Sargent, and Phil Nyokai James, at the same place. Both shows start at 8 p.m. Tickets are $5 (students); $10 (seniors & advance); $15 at the door. Advance tickets available at Jet Video, Starbird Music, and Gulf of Maine Books in Brunswick.

Recommended for you

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.