Tony Quagliano Poetry

Tony Quagliano Poetry


                          Language Matters–Selected Poetry ©  by Tony Quagliano, 2012
                                -- New York Quarterly Books

The Tony Quagliano 1941–2007

The Image and the Word

Picture this if you will: The words we know, all the words we have acquired along with the ways of connecting them in all our respective cultures, are nothing less than the irreducible expression of a singular nature we call human.

We are selves in a world because we have words.

"The Present State of American Poetry XVIII," New York Quarterly 47, 1992

Tony loved jazz, and wrote of jazz often. The qualities of jazz–rhythm and sound–underlie his poetry. Joanne Yamada writes: “For Quagliano, such qualities always incorporate the conscious fusion of the sound of the word within a rhythmic structure.” In amazing and unexpected ways, Tony brought the sounds of words together and, likewise, the confluence of ideas/thoughts together. As Joseph Stanton wrote in response to Quagliano’s poem and book of the same name,
Fierce Meadows, “Tony Quagliano is the master of a perceptual jazz, of a poetic-improvisation technique that makes from the random litter of everyday events a fine, bright, mocking kind of music. Quagliano seems to find his poems through a whimsical attentiveness to the rhythms of being there, inside wherever he happens to be.”

Tony Quagliano described himself and his writing as utterly independent and contrarian.
His poetry brings light to distressing accidents of human history as in
Bio-Politics of Molokai:

if the chinese brought leprosy to paradise
why say so? did they want it
to give or have
any more than you or me?

if the british brought syphilis to paradise
why say so? did they want it
to give or have
any more than you or me?

Quagliano railed against the creative-writing workshopniks and the adolescent PC, small-time, graceless self-deceivers. He told them to
Get Out of Poetry by Sundown:

 … or in poetry false
as silly Bunny Collins
perfect poet/laureate in the age
of Shrub…

He excoriated the false, tortured-language frauds and poseurs in
Semiotic Self-Deconstruction:

Most theorists
of language
don't write very well
and their theories
don't tell them why

Though utterly independent, Tony had a big heart. He often gave encouraging words to countless poets urging them to continue their writing. Tony truly wanted to have the poet Wing Tek Lum hone the best of his words, sending the poet this message in
Last Chance Poem for Wing Tek Lum. As the editor of KAIMANA, Quagliano sought quality–“I just publish the very best stuff I get.”

And he had fun with poetry, as in
The Showdown:

"Read it and weep," the stranger said,
"it's my acceptance speech for the
Nobel Prize in Literature.
I'm on my way to Sweden now
to pick it up."


A murmur broke out in the bar
and the rest of Bart's gang backed out the door.
"Your boys are hightailing it, Bart.
It's time for you to do the same."

"Jeez!  The Nobel!"

The stranger's eyes narrowed to slits.
"That's right.  For a lifetime
of poems and philosophy."


One for WCW at the Post-Nuclear Philosophy Conference in Manoa Quagliano noted the quotidian doctoring and the transcendent poetry of William Carlos Williams as poetry at its best:

…and while poetry/can't do much about it
the thing is
                does the most

Tony, in his own words, “spoke truth to poetry” over all these long years.
Between a Rock and Mahatma Gandhi is perhaps his most imagistic and elegant poem, one that transports us as readers or as listeners: from ourselves to places beyond ourselves and back to ourselves:

Between a rock and Mahatma Gandhi
which is better?

a rock is a perfectly fine
aggregation/of sub-atomic particles
Mahatma Gandhi alive is a perfectly
fine aggregation/of sub-atomic particles

a rock has rock sentience

Gandhi has Gandhi sentience

it’s not better to be a rock
or to be Gandhi
if nothing matters

we have powerful personal knowledge
that nothing matters
suicide knows nothing matters
war knows and torture
the tools of the torturer know
extinct species know nothing matters
opium knows
metallic concentrates in the brain
stunned by Alzheimer’s know
your house on fire while you are at the movies
the deepest inner thoughts of your great
grandfather’s great great grandfather know
the room he was born in knows
the biochemistry of a cancer cell knows
the questions asked by Torquemada know
ashes scattered at sea
the digestive tract of the insect
feeding on the conqueror worm knows
the library at Alexandria
self-destructive habits know
an empty tube of spermicidal jelly knows
the temperature of the air in a Siberian prison cell knows
a neutron in an oxygen atom in
the ozone layer knows
the volume of Niagara Falls knows
the last centimeter of the distance between
this page and Alpha Centauri knows
nothing matters across all time and space
knows nothing matters
nothingness knows most
nothing matters

though a case can be made
made every day
that something matters
though the proofs don’t overwhelm

if something matters
only if something matters
Mahatma Gandhi is better than a rock

TONY QUAGLIANO published widely in numerous literary journals including New York Quarterly, New Directions, Harvard Review, Rolling Stone, Exquisite Corpse, Wormwood Review, and Negative Capability–The Big Easy Crescent City That Care Forgot. His poems are also included in the anthologies The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, The Poetry of Solitude: A Tribute to Edward Hopper, The Poet Dreaming in the Artist’s House, among others. Quagliano wrote five books of poetry: Language Drawn and Quartered (Ghost Dance Press 1975), Fierce Meadows (Petronium Press, 1981), Snail Mail Poems (Tinfish Network, 1998), pictographs (Red Moon Press, 2008), and Language Matters (New York Quarterly Books, 2012).. He edited the Small Press Review Bukowski Special Issue (1973) and edited Feast of Strangers–Selected Prose and Poetry of Reuel Denney (1999).

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