Hoagland, Tony




The author of three volumes of poetry, Tony Hoagland received the 2005 Mark Twain Award for his contribution to humor in American poetry, as well as the O. B. Hardison prize for poetry and teaching. His poem "America", published in 2003, is a look at a teacher presented with the anger and frustration of a disaffected, blue-haired, tongue-studded student. At first the teacher seems to reject the student's complaint about modern materialist culture, pausing to "wonder if this is a legitimate category of pain." But then he reconsiders, privately acknowledging that "I am asleep in America too,/ And I don't know how to wake myself either." Hoagland's poem explores the effects of American consumerism and the barriers to identifying with others of a different class, nation, or generation.

Full Text*

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What Narcissism Means to Me, (Graywolf Press, 2003), p. 3.




Connection and RelationshipCrisis and ConflictDiversity and DifferenceExclusion and BelongingHeritage and TraditionIdentity and CommunityJustice and EqualityLeadership and ResponsibilityLove and CompassionMoney and WealthMotives and ValuesNature and the EnvironmentPower and PrivilegeRace, Ethnicity and CultureSocial and Political ChangeSpeech and Expression

Big Questions

What is the world we dream of living in? Is it possible?

Sample Discussion Questions

  1. Why, for the blue-haired student, is America a maximum-security prison?
  2. What sense do you get of the narrator of the poem? What do we know about him, what do we not know?
  3. Is this student, in your view, expressing “a legitimate category of pain”?
  4. What is happening in the poem? Who is being addressed?
  5. What does the narrator mean when he says, “I am asleep in America too,/and I don't know how to wake myself either”?
  6. What is the tone of the piece? Angry, sad, indignant?
  7. How would you describe the narrator's attitude toward the student?
  8. What sense of American do we get in the opening lines?
  9. What do you make of the instructor's dream?
  10. Where does the poet belong?
  11. What is the “nightmare” described at the end of the poem?
  12. What do you think the poet means by the "well-contested field"?
  13. Who might be “drowning underneath you”? What does the narrator mean by that?
  14. Who are the patriots in this piece? Who are the rebels?
  15. Why does the speaker feel that it is “your own hand/ Which turns the volume higher”?
  16. What contradictions are there in the piece? What affect do these have on you as you read the poem?
  17. What do you think of his vision of America? Does it resonate? Which parts?
  18. What perspective does the poet offer the America of his time? What about the America of today?
  19. What action does it the poem call for- if any?
  20. Should we take up arms to fight injustice, or is it enough to pray or trust in fate?
  21. What duty do we owe to our country? What about when we are the oppressed?
  22. What is the value of disagreement and opposition? How should they be expressed?
  23. How should people of faith respond to injustice?
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