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What Narcissism Means to Me

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  1,613 ratings  ·  158 reviews
An eagerly awaited new collection of poems by contemporary favorite Tony Hoagland, author of Donkey Gospel

How did I come to believe in a government called Tony Hoagland?
With an economy based on flattery and self-protection?
and a sewage system of selective forgetting?
and an extensive history of broken promises?
--from "Argentina"

In What Narcissism Means to Me, award-winning
Paperback, 78 pages
Published November 1st 2003 by Graywolf Press (first published 2003)
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Showing 1-30
4.09  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,613 ratings  ·  158 reviews

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Jan Rice
Dec 13, 2018 rated it it was amazing

The wind comes down from the northwest, cold in September,
and flips over the neighbor’s trash receptacles.

The Halifax newspaper says that mansions are falling into the sea.
Storms are rising in the dark Pacific.

Pollution has infiltrated the food chain down to the jellyfish level.
The book I am reading is called “The End of the Ascent of Man.”

It says the time of human dominion is done,
but I am hoping it will be a peaceful transition.

It is one thing to think of bu
Apr 20, 2009 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry
Why am I the only person who doesn't like this piece of crap collection? It only got two stars b/c there were a few poems I liked, or liked parts of. But overall, I think the title goes beyond just being clever and really says it all: this collection is obnoxiously self-centered and self-indulgent. And I don't find the commentary on America particularly intelligent, considering that what he basically says is we're materialistic (no, really?) and like drama and pity parties. There's also some sub ...more
James Murphy
Sep 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
I came to Tony Hoagland in February snow. He's warmed my reading since. Discovering the work of a writer new to you--here a poet--is thrilling. Like new love. Returning each day to What Narcissism Means to Me was to quench the impatience felt before picking it up again, then to be relieved in its pages as it once again both satisfied and became the target of my devotion. Time after time, poem after poem, my affection for Hoagland and his poetry proved to be warranted. Too, like new love, his poe ...more
Jun 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
ahhhh I love Tony Hoagland's poetry. It speaks to my bones and makes me laugh and weep. I love the myriad of ways he describes sunsets: a stain of watermelon juice spreading across a blue shirt, like cranberry sauce poured over yellow hills, the sky with its inflamed clouds looking like it's got an infection.

Kristin Garcia
Mar 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites

Tony Hoagland’s poems in What Narcissism Means to Me shows us that poetry can still be possible during anytime period and enjoyed at any age. He reaches into society’s current topics and ideas and pulls out a real unapologetic interpretation. As the reader and an American, we secretly enjoy him “calling us out”. He brings our unconscious opinions to our attention and by doing this unites the reader to the poem.

Something has to quickly appeal to me at the beginning of the poem to draw me in. In

At this point I've read more of Tony Hoagland the Essay Writer (about Poetry) than I have Tony Hoagland the Poet. Of this collection, I can vouch for one poem most of all -- a poem I enjoy sharing with my students. As it is commonly available on the web, I'll add it here:


Then one of the students with blue hair and a tongue stud
Says that America is for him a maximum-security prison

Whose walls are made of RadioShacks and Burger Kings, and MTV episodes
Where you can't tell the show from t
Armand Cognetta
Dec 16, 2014 rated it really liked it
Phone Call

Maybe I overdid it
when I called my father an enemy of humanity.
That might have been a little strongly put,
a slight exaggeration,

an immoderate description of the person
who at the moment, two thousand miles away,
holding the telephone receiver six inches from his ear,
must have regretted paying for my therapy.

What I meant was that my father
was an enemy of my humanity
and what I meant behind that
was that my father was split
into two people, one of them

living deep inside of me
like a bad king o
Mar 13, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014, poetry, reviewed
Last Review About Race (For Now)

There's a poem here about a big black woman playing tennis with a small white woman and how Tony's friend wanted the black woman to win and how Tony couldn't help but root for the white woman. He's imagining the match as a representation of times past and ends by pointing out that feelings of tribal solidarity have no place in the 21st century.

When I first read it, it made me uncomfortable. I imagined the black woman as a Robert Crumb drawing: all pink lips and go
Jun 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Here rests another instance where comedy reveals itself to simply be just sentimental realism; not that there is something that is "just" comedy. Despite what you might take the title to suggest, Hoagland tempts fairness, picking on himself as well as others: family, friends, popular music, enemies, trains. Regardless of whether narcissism is in fact "a heroic achievement in positive thinking," Hoagland's voice reads triumphant.
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry, xy
Liked the funny, conversational tone. Didn't like the weird race shit.
Jul 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
I've read some pretty amazing poems by Hoagland and so I had big hopes for this book. What I discovered is something I already knew: when I read poem after poem by the same author they have less impact, less punch. Yet, I believe if I'd read one at a time, savoring each over my morning coffee, perhaps I might have fallen more deeply in love with them all.

Still I enjoyed this book. I wasn't sure at first. It occured to me that I probably should have read Donkey Gospel first, but I'd already start
Aug 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Hoagland's poetry reaches across many topics, from the AIDS epidemic to race to the Station fire in Warwick Rhode Island, which killed 100 people in 2009.

You'd think that with such heavily weighed topics that Narcissism would be a serious, quiet tone. You'd be incorrect in that thinking. There are tough questions asked by these poems, but there is also a keen sense of humor, alighter touch of hope. The last poem, The Time Wars, ends with the lines:

We ourselves aren't thinking about the future a
Michael Meyerhofer
May 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I had the wonderful pleasure of seeing Tony Hoagland read at a conference in Austin, TX, and I can say without exaggeration that it was one of the most inspiring events I've ever attended. It's a sad truth that at many writing conferences, one can experience almost as much disappointment as they do elation. With Hoagland, though, there's no need to worry.

Hoagland's work is gutsy, comical, dark yet hopeful, accessible, and tenacious in its quest to clarify the human experience. I immediately purc
May 01, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I’ve always been overwhelmed by poetry, unsure of where to ‘start’, and the poetry I have been exposed to has been so overwrought and self-conscious that I foolishly dismissed the medium.
Tony Hoagland has been a great introduction.
On one page his piece might be playful, reworking cliques about American identity, and then turn to personal, heavier material like “Suicide Song”. His ability to span such a wide scale with such simple language is irresistible.
Tony Hoagland makes poetry seem easy.
Melting Uncle
Jun 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: finished2014, poetry
21st century poetry.......... Tony H is incredible!
Mar 05, 2008 rated it really liked it
Before reading this book, I had only encountered a few of Hoagland’s poems individually and read an essay he wrote about metaphor. One of those poems, “America,” was so moving to me that I decided to pick this collection up, as it includes that poem. Fortunately, it did not disappoint. Hoagland’s friendly tone and geeky straight guy persona make him a direct descendant of John Berryman and in a class with contemporaries such as Billy Collins and Dean Young. Like the aforementioned, his poetry d ...more
Oct 25, 2009 rated it liked it
Pretty torn over this collection which delights and frustrates me in almost equal measure. I could do without his ruminations on race and gender, but there is plenty to like here. Hoagland's American lives transpire before an everpresent scrim of advertisement and tawdry commercialism, and the struggle to assert meaning in that landscape proves fertile ground for him. Though the below may not be the collection's best example of this prevailing mood, I'm particularly fond of the prodigal tree. Bl ...more
Sep 20, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Made me interested in poetry again! Very good, contempory type poetry!


From Publishers Weekly
"How did I come to believe in a government called Tony Hoagland?/ with an economy based on flattery and self-protection?" How indeed. In Hoagland's third collection, as in the previous two, his speaker devotes considerable energy to unmasking this vulnerable self, revealing its ugliness, hatred and social sensitivity in articulate detail. A typical poem begins masochistically:
Jan 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, school, reviewed
I thought this book was hilarious, particularly the first two sections: America and Social Life. The poems in the section Blues were the only ones I didn't really care for, but that's just because that subject doesn't interest me much.

Here's my favorite poem of the bunch:


Then one of the students with blue hair and a tongue stud
Says that America is for him a maximum-security prison

Whose walls are made of RadioShacks and Burger Kings, and MTV episodes
Where you can't tell the show from the
Writer's Relief
Oct 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
WHAT NARCISSISM MEANS TO ME is Tony Hoagland’s best-regarded collection for a reason: It’s his first truly cohesive work, one that presses true emotion up against the cumbersome, forever-encroaching reality of American industry and culture. Hoagland’s work often rests somewhere between the tender, detail-heavy work of Gerald Stern, and the political, philosophical work of the Beat poets or Robert Hass. In every poem, Hoagland is constantly in search of truth--the effect of money on happiness, wh ...more
Nov 13, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
"In the movie theatre one night, you whispered,
“It is easier to watch than live”
and on the street outside, you thought,
“If this was a book, I would skip this part”"

Also: "It is the hour of meatloaf perfume emanating from the houses."

New York schoolish conversational poems that are reverent of everyday and memory then turn dark quite quickly. Sharp, sad little machines.
Feb 13, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This is the kind of book that keeps hope alive when you live in a crap town and/or you are surrounded by soulless turds.
May 29, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Another terrific collection of poetry. My book friends make so many good recommendations.
Ed Erwin
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Didn't impress me as much as Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty, but that may be simply because that was the first time I'd encountered Tony Hoagland, and I can never re-create the feeling of discovery. Still, there are many poems here I want to copy and paste to show the whole world.

I just learned that he died a few months ago. Rest in peace!
May 01, 2016 rated it did not like it
Shelves: 2016, male-author, poetry
My favorite poem from this collections is called In Which I Make the Mistake of Comparing Billie Holiday to a Cosmic Washerwoman. Despite the awareness referenced in the title, and the fact that there are some lovely lines in this poem, I'm still troubled by it:

But here in the past of that future,
Billie Holiday is still singing
a song so dark and slow
it seems bigger than her, it sounds very heavy

like a terrible stain soaked into the sheets,
so deep that nothing will ever get it out,
and she keeps t
Jun 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
therapy for middle-aged white guys in vermont. blech!
that aside, it was okay. i like his conversational style of poetry. this i like, yes i do. otherwise, um, therapy for middle-aged white guys in vermont blech.
mr. tony tony is down on love. i like his down on love poems.
here's the one i liked. i ripped it off for a writing exercise. i will not share it here for it is of a personal nature and i don't want anyone to know anything about me. ooh secrets. how intriguing right?
writing poetry is in
Apr 28, 2016 rated it it was ok
This book, to me, is the American Beauty of books of poetry.

I didn't see American Beauty when it came out (too young), but I did see it when I was seventeen, and thought it was brilliant then…but then I grew up a little, and realized that American Beauty is actually not brilliant at all, that it's embarrassing how smart it thinks it is. I think the world kind of agrees with me on this one; yes, the film won Best Picture, but since then, it seems to have undergone a critical reevaluation that le
William Hurst
May 04, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
Hoagland knows his way around a poem. To be published with a prestigious press like Graywolf, one must. There are times in Narcissism, though, where Hoagland acts like he doesn't really know the way, that he's lost in whatever musings he's making. Maybe it's a bit of bias, but I like work that's focused, where the writer has taken the time and energy to revise his poem for clarity, and allowed himself to cut the unnecessary baggage. In Donkey Gospel, Hoagland hit a home run with just about every ...more
Robert Lashley
Apr 17, 2011 rated it it was ok
Hoagland is the MFA system's answer to Amiri Baraka; a passive aggressive bomb thrower more interested in racial and sexual "getback" than the aesthetics of a poem. Structure, language, and the unique individual music one looks for in a free verse poem are sacrificed to an array of reactionary statements on race and gender that range from genteel ( " The change") to violent ("adam and eve"). Like Baraka, Hoagland wants the outside reader to not engage but submit to him; to give him kudos for "ho ...more
Sep 23, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
If you want to start a fight among poets, start talking about some Tony Hoagland poems.

The criticism that his poetry is “self-indulgent” is amusing to me. It’s as if people are missing the very big joke in the title. Of course it’s self-indulgent. What poetry isn’t, at its core? Who among us can say that we’re not narcissistic? Let the person who is not self-indulgent throw the first stone.

Hoagland has received his fair share of stones thrown in his direction. Maybe he has deserved some of them
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Anthony Dey Hoagland's father was an Army doctor and Hoagland grew up on various military bases throughout the South. He was educated at Williams College, the University of Iowa (B.A.), and the University of Arizona (M.F.A.). According to the novelist Don Lee, Hoagland "attended and dropped out of several colleges, picked apples and cherries in the Northwest, lived in communes, [and:] followed the ...more
“Outside the youth center, between the liquor store
and the police station,
a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,
like a sudsy mug of beer;
like a bride ripping off her clothes,

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.
It’s been doing that all week:
making beauty,
and throwing it away,
and making more.”
“Then there was someone else I met,
whose face and voice I can’t forget,
and the memory of her
is like a jail I’m trapped inside,

or maybe she is something I just use
to hold my real life at a distance.”
More quotes…