Sunday, April 16, 2006
When I was out at Stanford a few weeks back for the Paul Laurence Dunbar centennial conference, I ran into Everett Hoagland, who I had not seen since we were both at the University of Maine many years ago. We did what all poets do, we exchanged recent books. Everett has a selected out now, from the good people at Leapfrog Press. The book is titled “. . . HERE . . . New and Selected Poems.” That main title is destined to be frequently misquoted, rather like Zukofsky’s “‘A,’” but I love it for its punctual ellipses.
Having grown up in the shadow of Sterling Brown, my eye went straight to Hoagland’s “Puttin’ on the Dog,” a poem that, as it turns out, turns on a whole different set of questions than Brown’s poem did, but turns in some of the same ways:
“Is my poetry Poesy?
Does it go too far into haute couture
Then there is “Talking Shit: King Leopold’s Voice Box,” a poem that serves as devastating history lesson. The poem derives from a “teaching” practice of the Francophone priests and nuns who instructed African youth in French:
“When I was young
they would lynch your language,
hang your mother tongue.”
There are many tribute poems in the collection, to other poets (Baraka, Kaufman etc.) and even to a conference organizer (Joanne Gabbin!). Responding to Kaufman’s public image, Hoagland asks:
“ he was never
‘the black Rimbaud.’ How
could he be? American
as red beans and rice, bagels and Buicks.”
Even though I’ve only met Everett Hoagland twice, I always feel like I’ve known him longer. Back in my student days at Federal City College, our English professor had us read Hoagland’s work in Dudley Randall’s landmark anthology THE BLACK POETS. It’s good to see him and his books again.