Tony Hoagland (1953-2018)

Tony Hoagland (1953-2018)

The American poet Tony Hoagland died on 23 October, aged 64. He had been suffering from cancer for several years. He published three books of poetry with Bloodaxe in the UK, with a fourth published posthumously in June 2019. A provocative poet, critic and literary figure, he was American poetry's hilarious 'high priest of irony', a wisecracker and a risk-taker whose disarming humour, self-scathing and tenderness were all fuelled by an aggressive moral intelligence. His poems poke and provoke at the same time as they entertain and delight. He pushed the poem not just to its limits but over the edge.

Tony Hoagland was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. His father was an Army doctor, and Hoagland grew up on various military bases throughout the South. He taught at the University of Houston and in the low residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College. He lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and was married to the writer Kathleen Lee.

He was introduced to UK audiences by Aldeburgh Poetry Festival in 2004, after which the Poetry Trust took him on tour to several other venues with Henry Shukman, an early champion of his work, and Michael Rosen. Bloodaxe made copies of his first UK selected poems, What Narcissism Means to Me, available early for these readings. Despite the burden of his long illness, he made further trips to the UK, returning to Aldeburgh in 2015, again touring with a new Bloodaxe collection, Application for Release from the Dream, this time with fellow American Kim Addonizio, and the Brazilian poet Adélia Prado, whose work he had earlier recommended to Bloodaxe (as had the Poetry Trust also). He was a popular poet-in-residence at Ledbury Poetry Festival in 2017, reading with Thomas Lynch, giving a lecture on the American poetic voice (see videos below) and giving poetry workshops which participants described as highly original and inspiring.

He published his first collection, Sweet Ruin, in 1992, winner of the Brittingham Prize in Poetry. His second, Donkey Gospel (1998), won the James Laughlin Award of The Academy of American Poets. The third, What Narcissism Means to Me (2003), was shortlisted for a National Book Circle Critics Award. His first UK book of poems, What Narcissism Means to Me: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2005) drew upon these three collections, and was followed by Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (2010) and Application for Release from the Dream, published by Graywolf Press in the US in 2015 and by Bloodaxe in Britain in 2016. is final two collections, written over the same period, were a small collection, Recent Changes in the Vernacular (Tres Chicas Press, 2017), and Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God (Graywolf Press, 2018). The Bloodaxe UK edition of Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God, published in June 2019, also includes some poems from Recent Changes in the Vernacular. He also published Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft (Graywolf Press, USA, 2006) and Twenty Poems That Could Save America and Other Essays (Graywolf Press, USA, 2014).  

He was given a number of literary honours, including the Jackson Poetry Prize, awarded by Poets & Writers magazine; the Mark Twain Award, given by the Poetry Foundation; and the O.B. Hardison Jr. Prize from the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Tony Dey Hoagland: born 19 November 1953, died 23 October 2018

The New York Times' tribute is here.

'Hoagland’s work punctures personal, poetical and political pretensions and I would highly recommend it to anybody who has yet to discover its great pleasures and profundities.' - Martyn Crucefix on Tony Hoagland 

Read his full tribute and review of Application for Release from the Dream here.


A wonderful tribute event to Tony Hoagland took place at the Poetry in Aldeburgh Festival in November 2019. Josh Weiner, Peter Sansom, Tony's close friend Martin Shaw and his widow Kathleen Lee remembered Tony and read his poems. Moderated by Kathryn Maris.

Listen to the podcast here.



Oh life, how I loved your cold spring mornings
of putting my stuff in the green gymbag
and crossing wet grass to the southeast gate
to push my crumpled dollar through the slot.

When I get my allotted case of cancer,
let me swim ten more times at Barton Springs,
in the outdoor pool at 6 A.M., in the cold water
with the geezers and the jocks.

With my head bald from radiation
and my chemotheraputic weight loss
I will be sleek as a cheetah
– and I will not complain about life’s

pedestrian hypocrisies;
I will not consider death a contractual violation.
Let my cancer be the slow-growing kind
so I will have all the time I need

to backstroke over the rocks and little fishes,
looking upwards through my bronze-tinted goggles
into the vaults and rafters of the oaks,
as the crows exchange their morning gossip

in the pale mutations of early light.
It was worth death to see you through these optic nerves,
to feel breeze through the fur on my arms
to be chilled and stirred in your mortal martini.

In documents elsewhere I have already recorded
my complaints in some painstaking detail.
Now, because all things near water are joyful,
there might be time to catch up on praise.

from Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty

Tony Hoagland on D.H. Lawrence, Britney Spears and being lucky or romantic

When Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed Tony Hoagland in August 2008, he was still living near Wellfleet on Cape Cod, and had published his UK selected What Narcissism Means to Me with Bloodaxe. In this film he reads two poems from that book, ‘Lawrence’ and ‘Benevolence’, and two poems from the manuscript which later became Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, ‘Romantic Moment’ and ‘Poor Britney Spears’. This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: World Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008). 


Tony Hoagland live at Ledbury Poetry Festival

Tony Hoagland reads and introduces a selection of his poems from all his books at Ledbury Poetry Festival in July 2017, where he shared a stage with Thomas Lynch.


Tony Hoagland: The American Poetic Voice

What is most distinctive about the American poetic voice? It may be its democratic vernacular, its elasticity, its plainness of style, its life-giving vulgarity, its pragmatism, its materialism, its self-regard, or its humour. All of these features are embedded in that mysterious element we call Voice, that rhythmic undulating metabolism which transports and delivers whatever "information" a poem contains. In this talk, given at Ledbury Poetry Festival on 3 July 2017, Tony Hoagland uses examples to analyse, admire and illustrate some of the specific secrets of the American voice, providing a means for considering the craft of any poetic voice. His examples include poems by Frank O'Hara, Ezra Pound, Louise Glück, Adrian Blevins and Genevieve Taggard.


[25 October 2018]

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