“Just Fighting” by Sam Thilén

Sam Thilén


in memory of Tony Hoagland

When he grew weak
and held our final seminars at his home,
we, his dozen secondhand children,
gathered around him in secondhand chairs.
We barely noticed he shivered when he spoke.
How robust he looked in his den of batik tapestries,
pontificating about what John Ashbery could not do

until the surrealist among us was offended
and it got so heated we couldn’t go on.
“I’m just fighting,” Tony said.
Well, some of us like to fight, some of us need to,
and some of us fought back
like he really was our father
whom we hated and adored.

Oh, Tony. You welcomed it
and you gave. So skinny underneath your thermal shirt
and your cheeks brightened not by blood,
but by an orange knit hat and polyester suit vest,
you sparred not with us but for us. Did we know before you
that the unsaid should not be said, but shouted?
Did we believe another word could keep oblivion at bay?

from Poets Respond
October 28, 2018


Sam Thilén: “Tony Hoagland passed away on October 23rd after a prolonged battle with cancer. After a year-long leave of absence following surgery, and while significantly weakened by ongoing treatment, he continued to teach a ‘Writers on Literature’ seminar for current and past students at University of Houston. Even in illness, he was generous with his time and with encouragement and was a constant advocate for poetry and for poets, emerging poets especially. Tony was a fighter to his core. In one of our final email exchanges, he said, ‘You seem overly attached to the work of your teachers, Sam. Maybe you should get out more.’ Perhaps he wouldn’t like it, but it’s hard to imagine I’ll ever not be attached to the memory of a teacher as difficult and influential as Tony Hoagland.” (web)

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