Thank you for Tony Hoagland’s essay. I have to admit that the great bulk of “poems of disorientation” have left me flat. I resist them as much as they resist me. Perhaps I am overly sentimental or need too much closure. In any case, I am grateful for the invitation to revisit the work of James Tate and Lyn Hejinian. In the broader context of poems of disorientation, their work stands out even more than it always has.
I wonder if part of the problem that is developing is related to the monotony noted by Hoagland. There may in fact be many ways to say “vertigo,” but there are not an infinite number of ways. The issue may not be that the poems resist meaning, but that the meaning is right there, and resistance is futile. One thinks, “Yeah, I get it—life is confusing, hectic, and disjointed; now, how many more of your poems do I have to read?”
Perhaps the most successful poems are neither completely perspectival nor completely disorienting. When one considers the standouts in the long history of poetry, one very frequently recalls resistance as well as recognition. And one thing I get from Tate and Hejinian is perspective, albeit a contested perspective. When I read them, I am challenged and frequently disoriented, but I also get a sense that there’s a “there” there—it is contradiction-laden, provisional, even shattered, but it’s there.