Thursday, November 15, 2012

I myself am WIMF

Interesting, kind of weird article in the current APR. 

It’s written by Michael Broek, titled “Weird & Bathetic: Tony Hoagland, The Office, and the Confessional Mode.”

It centers on Tony Hoagland’s poem “The Change,” aware, as Broek writes, that it has “lately come under scrutiny.” 

What Broek is interested in doing here is making a distinction between the Confessional poetry of, on the one side (according to Broek), Robert Lowell and John Berryman, and, on the other side, Tony Hoagland, Dean Young, and Bob Hicok.  This new crew, these new confessional poets, he designates WIMFs: White, Heterosexual, Middle-Class Males with Feelings. 

It centers almost solely on Hoagland and “The Change,” comparing Hoagland’s speaker with the character Michael Scott from The Office. 

The idea is that this character is inept, well-meaning, nostalgic, and naïve. 

The thing about Michael Scott is that he thinks he’s aware of himself, but he’s not.  And he thinks he’s funny, and he’s not.  And his lack of awareness and lack of being funny makes him funny to watch:

As Broek writes: “Hoagland’s manipulation of the reader’s gaze causes us to simultaneously applaud while also being disgusted by his speaker’s language and attitude.” 

I guess that fits.  And this is the moment where Hoagland’s poetry gets him into trouble: “Hoagland the poet knows very well that his speaker’s statements are immediately suspect.”  That’s the crux of it, right?  How aware or not aware Hoagland is of what he’s playing with.  Or maybe not.  Maybe readers who have criticized poems of his, like “The Change,” believe him to be aware of what he’s doing, but not sure WHY he’s doing it. 

Why Steve Carell portrays Michael Scott the way he does is understood, and is obviously comic.  Hoagland’s speaker is (speakers are) much less comic, and more provocative. 

Michael Scott is a tour of ineptitude, the wounded male desperate for community, who has no real capacity for others.  In my reading, Hoagland does tour some, on the surface, similar territory, but he—the poet, not the speaker—is interested in stirring the pot, more than the writers behind The Office are.  he is a self-conscious provocateur. 

I’m not sure the point of comparing The Office with these three contemporary poets, and I’m not sure what to make of this term, WIMF (Is it a movement?  A tendency?  A mode?), but merely pointing as we pass is interesting, even if it doesn’t lead anywhere.  Call it a transitional voice, maybe.  Or the last cry of belatedness, the nostalgia of male dominance masquerading as farce.  Who knows.



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