Call it a Front Row "mug shot." I love this photo of acclaimed poets Tony Hoagland and Nick Flynn, who engaged in some studio shenanigans by posing with each other's book. Tony's latest collection is Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty [in the hands of Nick Flynn, right], and Nick's collection is The Captain Asks for a Show of Hands [held by Tony Hoagland, left].
The two friends and colleagues, both on the Faculty of the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program, had a lively discussion of their works, with topics ranging from love, torture and fake Japanese dynasties to the risk of writing political poems. Listen to their complete conversation here.
Nick Flynn's new poems have the whisper of overheard conversations, the rhythm of Morse code. They are "like haunted houses ... full of the voices of the dead and the fragmented nature of the self," as Tony Hoagland said. A poem that begins as if spoken by two lovers takes a dark turn of survival and desperation: "First thing we should do / if we see each other again is to make a cage of our bodies -- inside we can place / whatever still shines."
As Nick described, Tony's poems reveal "the struggle of what it means to be alive ... wrestling with subtle and complex emotional states [which] move in and out in a recognizable landscape of bewilderment." Those familiar landscapes include The Galleria, dinner parties, a subway station or MTV, where Britney Spears is "nothing less than a gladiatrix / who strolls into the coliseum / full of blinding lights and tigers."
The poems I love always surprise me in content or form. You think it's about one thing, but it shows you something else. Instead of arriving at epiphany, it may lead to more questions. It can take a complicated, unsettling idea, like torture, and make it sing. Read it aloud - it will make you hear the sound of your own voice, and certain words, in a whole new way.
Poets Nick Flynn and Tony Hoagland read from their new collections -- Wednesday, February 23, 5:30pm at the University of Houston's M.D. Anderson Library, 713.743.1050. Free.