Under the idyllic and pastoral cover, The Stranger Manual by…
Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty is a colorful and contradictory view of America. The poems are a filled with musings on the century we are living in and the dynamics of love and life.
Tony Hoagland's verses seem to ask if we are just bold adventurers claiming a new democratic royalty or is our empire full of rust spots and loud mufflers as is cruises through a country covered in peeling billboards and half-drunk soda cans and is there any difference?
I too am made of joists and stanchions,
of plasterboard and temperamental steel,
mortgage payments and severed index fingers,
ex-girlfriends and secret Kool-Aid-flavored dawns.”
There is nice coherence to this book of poetry. Intended or not, the table of contents even reads like a list poem, where each title conveys a conversation of emotions set in stanzas. This book has unique potential, from the catchy title to the spirited verses.
Still, there is awkwardness in Hoagland's prose. It isn't clumsy in language or structure, but in its ability to express. Using broad phrases like “for a while the problem got very clear, and the clarity constituted a kind of relief, as if the problem had withdrawn. . . But after a while the clarity began to fade” which don't actually say much of anything are a major hazard. Something is missing in this vagueness and it feels like we are left out of a secret joke known only to the writer, making it hard for the reader to fully commit to the work and get lost in the poet's world.
Another detractor is when the author addresses the poem directly, as in the following bits: “they are excited to be entering the poem” and “I wanted to get the cement truck into the poem” or “I liked the idea of my poem having room inside.” This self-praising just feels unnecessary.
That being said, there are still some excellent politically-charged pieces as Hoagland taps into our ironically humorous life. In one poem, he aptly uses the well-known identity of Brittney Spears to expand on society's misconceptions and subjugations.
Oh my adorable little monkey
prancing for your candy
with one of my voices I shout, 'Jump, jump, you little whore!'
With another I say,
in a quiet way that turns down the lights,
'Put on some clothes and go home, Sweetheart.'”
Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty is an introspective look at ourselves and the country we live in. Hoagland's home-spun soliloquies on American life are both clever and pensive.