Q: Does writing about hard things ever make you agitated and upset, so that you have to walk away from the writing and regain your equilibrium?
A: Nope. Life is what’s hard. Writing is always solace.
This exchange took place in a university undergraduate creative writing class a couple of weeks ago. Writing is how I translate all the emotion and experience of living into something that’s bigger than me. It’s a means of transcendence, a way to push away all that hugeness and also absorb it. To make a connection with other human beings you don’t know and have never met.
So is reading, poetry especially. For decades Tony Hoagland’s work has been solace. It’s like he saw into my heart and wrote poems meant just for me, even though he was beloved by so many. I meant to write him a letter this fall, telling him how much he means to me, but he died last week, so my letter will never be written. Don’t take it personal, they said; but I did, I took it all quite personal– Oh Tony, I’m so sad you’re gone.
Personal, by Tony Hoagland
Don’t take it personal, they said;
but I did, I took it all quite personal—
the breeze and the river and the color of the fields;
the price of grapefruit and stamps,
the wet hair of women in the rain—
And I cursed what hurt me
and I praised what gave me joy,
the most simple-minded of possible responses.
The government reminded me of my father,
with its deafness and its laws,
and the weather reminded me of my mom,
with her tropical squalls.
Enjoy it while you can, they said of Happiness
Think first, they said of Talk
Get over it, they said
at the School of Broken Hearts
but I couldn’t and I didn’t and I don’t
believe in the clean break;
I believe in the compound fracture
served with a sauce of dirty regret,
I believe in saying it all
and taking it all back
and saying it again for good measure
while the air fills up with I’m-Sorries
like wheeling birds
and the trees look seasick in the wind.
Oh life! Can you blame me
for making a scene?
You were that yellow caboose, the moon
disappearing over a ridge of cloud.
I was the dog, chained in some fool’s backyard;
barking and barking:
trying to convince everything else
to take it personal too.
I’ve sent out many Tony Hoagland poems in the past, and I could send out Tony Hoagland poems every week for a year; that’s how much I loved him. For more poems by Tony, please click here.