Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland

As part of the Graywolf Press — one of my favorite small presses that publishes poetry and fiction — Spotlight on Small Presses (click on the badge at the bottom of the post for the tour stops), I chose a poetry book to review, which I picked up at the 2010 Book Expo America.

Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty by Tony Hoagland is his first collection of poems in 10 years, according to the Graywolf representative at the expo.  The collection features poems that call into question the realities of the modern world from our dating rituals to our trips to the mall food court.

In “Big Grab,” Hoagland suggests language is taking on meanings that are less than they are.  “The Big Grab,/so the concept of Big is quietly modified/to mean More Or Less Large, or Only Slightly/Less Big than Before.// Confucius said this would happen –/that language would be hijacked and twisted/”  (page 5).  This collection not only tackles the language changes our society faces and what those changes mean, but it also looks carefully at the world of celebrity in “Poor Britney Spears.”

Expensive Hotel (page 24)

When the middle-class black family in the carpeted hall
passes the immigrant housekeeper from Belize, oh
that is an interesting moment.  One pair of eyes is lowered.

That’s how you know you are part
of a master race — where someone
humbles themselves without even having to be asked.

And in the moment trembling
from the stress of its creation,
we feel the illness underneath our skin —

the unquenchable wish to be thought well of
wilting and dying a little
while trying to squeeze by

the cart piled high with fresh towels and sheets,
small bars of soap and bottles
of bright green shampoo,

which are provided for guests to steal.

Hoagland’s crisp language and vivid imagery is deftly weaved with philosophical and societal questions we all should be answering or at least asking.  Has modern society twisted our culture into something worthwhile or is it something that should be tossed in the trash as a bad experiment.  However, there are moments of humor and deep sarcasm throughout the volume that offset one another to make readers ponder what the poet really desires from the modern world.  Readers will come away from the collection with a new focus on examining society and their part in it –whether they decide to continue assimilating is up to them.  Unincorporated Persons in the Late Honda Dynasty is a thought-provoking collection that urges readers to be unique and to think outside the box.

This is my 9th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

This is my 38th book for the 2010 New Authors Reading Challenge.


  1. One of the poetry books I acquired from you (“The Looking House” by Fred Marchant) is published by Graywolf :-). What I’ve read of it is pretty good. I wish I had thought to volunteer to review it for the Spotlight Series; instead I’m doing a different book. Maybe I can get away with also mentioning this (in passing) at the end of my post :-).

    • I think you should mention Looking House; it’s a lovely book of poetry, which I hope to be reviewing soon. I’ll have to check out what book you are doing for the spotlight series. I was worried about posting on a Sunday because I didn’t think anyone would read the post.

  2. I’m not much of a poetry reader but I’m glad you enjoyed it. Thanks for participating!

  3. I am really excited to try something from Graywolf and have been looking at their catalog. They seem to have some very unusual books. I am glad that you found such a great volume of poetry from them. Wonderful review!

  4. I’m going to have to borrow your copy. I love commentaries on society, so I’d be willing to give this collection a try.

  5. I love many of the poems in this volume (I think I’ve already put three on my blog, the latest just last week, about Barton Springs).

    I love the line in this one about someone
    humbles themselves without even having to be asked

    This poet puts things so simply, and so well.

  6. Thanks so much for participating in the Spotlight Series! Graywolf DOES seem to have a great list of poetry titles, so I’m glad we started the ball rolling with a review of one 🙂

  7. Well I’m not one for poetry but what you printed sounds good. I might not mind this at all.

  8. I love the title of this collection. And what a brilliant concept, that the little bottles are there to steal so you will feel like you stole something and won’t need to steal bigger things… Never thought of that!

    • This is a fascinating collection and commentary on modern society. I was in awe of most of the poems. I’m going to have to check out more of his work.