Power Rankings: Is Tony Hoagland the Carolina Panther(s) or the Chicago Bear(s) of American Poetry? Or is He Somewhere In-between?
There are 15 or 20 better poets in America than Tony Hoagland, but few deliver more pure pleasure. His erudite comic poems are backloaded with heartache and longing, and they function, emotionally, like improvised explosive devices: the pain comes at you from the cruelest angles, on the sunniest of days.
I am not sure what to make of an article that begins as strangely as Dwight Garner's review of Tony Hoagland's new collection of poetry, Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty (Graywolf Press, 2010). What does it mean to be ranked the 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th, 20th, or 21st Best Contemporary American Poet? How are such ranking determined? According to whose standards?
As Lil' Wayne might put it, I think someone is "Talkin' &*%# like Lane Kiffin."
However, Garner's is a generally positive review of a very good book. And if there really are 15 or 20 better poets out there, I suspect 5 to 7 of them are publishing a new book every year or so. Does this mean the New York Times will be giving us more poetry reviews amid "All the News That's Fit to Print"? Why should we settle for a review of a book by someone, however amusing, who may only be the 21st Best Poet in America?