Tony Hoagland has a theory: People like poetry when they hear it read out loud.

It’s when they have to resuscitate a poem that’s languishing on the pages of a book that it sometimes feels weighty.

Hoagland, a past Guggenheim Fellow and winner of poetry’s top prizes, will be in Maine in April to test his theory. He reads April 16 at Hannaford Hall in Portland as part a new visiting poets series hosted by Portland poet laureate Marcia F. Brown.

Tickets are $25. Proceeds benefit Maine Poetry Central, which supports Maine poetry through a variety of initiatives including the Portland Poet Laureate program.

“When a poet gets invited to a reading, it’s a real opportunity for the poems, because poems that are read out loud are experienced in a radically different way,” Hoagland said by phone from his home in Texas. “If you have the kinds of poems that lend themselves to be read out loud, people get the chance to experience this language in motion. They can’t see the page. They don’t know what will happen next.

“You have the chance to shock them with a poem.”

Hoagland is the first poet to read in the Words Matter Visiting Poets Series, named to emphasize the power of words and importance of respectful discourse. Brown said the larger goal is to make us mindful of the language that we use and its effect on people.

“Words can hurt or heal,” she said. “Who better than a poet to spread this message?”

For Hoagland, the trip to Maine will be a return home. He lived in Waterville and taught at Colby College and the University of Maine at Farmington. He teaches writing at the University of Houston in Texas.

He’s known for his incisive poems, which are always observational, usually witty and often downright funny.

Hoagland has been widely lauded. He won the Mark Twain Award and the Jackson Poetry Prize, and he has written several books of poetry, including the well-titled “What Narcissism Means to Me.”

Brown’s aim with the series is to bring to town poets with enough name recognition to reach a broad audience. She cited the reading at Merrill Auditorium in February 2013 by Maine resident Richard Blanco, the 2013 U.S. inaugural poet. Every ticket was distributed for that free event, emboldening Brown and her colleagues to think about poetry’s mass-appeal potential. She called Blanco’s reading a “watershed moment” for poetry in Maine because it proved that a poet could fill more than a bookstore or coffee shop with listeners.

Hoagland likes the idea of being the first poet in the series, and he doesn’t flinch at the pressure of meeting high expectations.

“I really like the idea of being the front man for American poetry, its glories and possibilities,” he said. “Contemporary American poetry deserves a lot more readers.”

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