Why I Like the Hospital

Tony Hoagland

Because it is all right to be in a bad mood there,slouching along through the underground garage,riding wordlessly on the elevator with the other customers,staring at the closed beige doors like a prison wall.I like the hospital for the way it grants permission for pathos—the mother with cancer deciding how to tell her kids,the bald girl gazing downward at the shuntinstalled above her missing breast,the crone in her pajamas, walking with an IV pole.I don't like the smell of antiseptic,or the air-conditioning set on high all night,or the fresh flowers tossed into the wastebasket,but I like the way some people on their plastic chairsbreak out a notebook and invent a complex scoring systemto tally up their days on earth,the column on the left that says, Times I Acted Like a Fool,facing the column on the right that says, Times I Acted Like a Saint.I like the long prairie of the waiting;the forced intimacy of the self with the self;each sick person standing in the middle of a field,like a tree wondering what happened to the forest.And once I saw a man in a lime-green dressing gown,hunched over in a chair; a man who was notyelling at the doctors, or pretending to be strong,or making a murmured phone call to his wife,but one sobbing without shame,pumping it all out from the bottom of the self,the overflowing bilge of helplessness and rage,a man no longer expecting to be saved,but if you looked, you could seethat he was holding his own hand in sympathy,listening to every single word,and he was telling himself everything.

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Tony Hoagland was the author of seven collections of poetry, including Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God, What Narcissism Means to Me, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Donkey Gospel, winner of the James Laughlin Award of the Academy of American Poets. He was also the author of two collections of essays, Twenty Poems That Could Save America and Other Essays and Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft. He received the Jackson Poetry Prize from Poets & Writers, the Mark Twain Award from the Poetry Foundation, and the O. B. Hardison, Jr. Award from the Folger Shakespeare Library. He taught for many years at the University of Houston. Hoagland died in October 2018.

The final book of poems by Tony Hoagland, “one of the most distinctive voices of our time” (Carl Dennis).

Over the course of his celebrated career, Tony Hoagland ventured fearlessly into the unlit alleys of emotion and experience. The poems in Turn Up the Ocean examine with an unflinching eye and mordant humor the reality of living and dying in a time and culture that conspire to erase our inner lives. Hoagland’s signature wit and unparalleled observations take in long-standing injustices, the atrocities of American empire and consumerism, and our ongoing habit of looking away. In these poems, perseverance depends on a gymnastics of skepticism and comedy, a dogged quest for authentic connection, and the consolations of the natural world. Turn Up the Ocean is a remarkable and moving collection, a fitting testament to Hoagland’s devotion to the capaciousness and art of poetry.

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