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Robert Hass 
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Post Robert Hass
If all goes as planned, I will be attending a talk by Robert Hass tomorrow. I thought I'd do my homework before hand. Until today I was unfamiliar with his poetry. I know him from his years writing the Washington Post's "Poet's Choice" column. Let me take you on a little side trip, worth it I promise. The Poet's Choice colum was begun by poet Edward Hirsh as a response to 9/11.

As he explains, he felt it "especially relevant to a post-9/11 world, a world characterized by disaffection and materialism, a world alienated from art." Hirsch, who is the author of six books of poems and three books of prose, wrote this immensely popular column until 2006, when he turned it over to former U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky.

The column created a space in which a poem could be lovingly presented. The approach to each poem varied from week to week. The writer of the column sometimes gave a little biographical tidbit about the poet that somehow informed the poem, or sometimes just described why the poem was important to to him/herself or why the poem was important to poetry in a larger sense. Each week I looked forward to meeting a new poem. I still have several poems that I clipped from the newspaper.

After Robert Pinsky, came Robert Hass and then finally Mary Karr. For the last year or so that the column ran I posted here on BT on the Poetry Forum. You can look through the archives to find it. There have been at least two collections of Poet's Choice articles published. I have the collect by Robert Hass.



Sat Feb 05, 2011 6:57 pm
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Post Re: Robert Hass
Now for the poetry of Robert Hass. His poetry tends to be long, not pages and pages, but it looks a bit like prose on a page. In many of the poems I read the images shift from one disparate image to another. I have a hard time with poetry that I have to try too hard to make sense of. I have found Billy Collins' suggestion of walking from image to image works well with Hass' poetry.

I think I will post a poem I like first, also one that is easy to grasp and enjoy. I wanted to bold the lines that I feel make this poem - they really pinch - but felt it would disrupt the poem. I change the color to a very dark green. I hope this is ok.

Privlege of Being
Robert Hass

Many are making love. Up above, the angels
in the unshaken ether and crystal of human longing
are braiding one another's hair, which is strawberry blond
and the texture of cold rivers. They glance
down from time to time at the awkward ecstasy--
it must look to them like featherless birds
splashing in the spring puddle of a bed--
and then one woman, she is about to come,
peels back the man's shut eyelids and says,
look at me, and he does. Or is it the man
tugging the curtain rope in that dark theater?
Anyway, they do, they look at each other;
two beings with evolved eyes, rapacious,
startled, connected at the belly in an unbelievably sweet
lubricious glue, stare at each other,
and the angels are desolate. They hate it. They shudder pathetically
like lithographs of Victorian beggars
with perfect features and alabaster skin hawking rags
in the lewd alleys of the novel.
All of creation is offended by this distress.
It is like the keening sound the moon makes sometimes,
rising. The lovers especially cannot bear it,
it fills them with unspeakable sadness, so that
they close their eyes again and hold each other, each
feeling the mortal singularity of the body
they have enchanted out of death for an hour so,
and one day, running at sunset, the woman says to the man,
I woke up feeling so sad this morning because I realized
that you could not, as much as I love you,
dear heart, cure my loneliness,
wherewith she touched his cheek to reassure him
that she did not mean to hurt him with this truth.

And the man is not hurt exactly,
he understands that life has limits, that people
die young, fail at love,
fail of their ambitions. He runs beside her, he thinks
of the sadness they have gasped and crooned their way out of
coming, clutching each other with old invented
forms of grace and clumsy gratitude, ready
to be alone again, or dissatisfied, or merely
companionable like the couples on the summer beach
reading magazine articles about intimacy between the sexes
to themselves, and to each other,
and to the immense, illiterate, consoling angels.



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DWill
Sat Feb 05, 2011 7:20 pm
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Post Re: Robert Hass
Here is one more for today. In my mind this is a sort of companion to the first poem I posted. Again Hass is exploring the limitations of love/sex and yet at the same time the beauty.

Misery and Splendor
by Robert Hass

Summoned by conscious recollection, she
would be smiling, they might be in a kitchen talking,
before or after dinner. But they are in this other room,
the window has many small panes, and they are on a couch
embracing. He holds her as tightly
as he can, she buries herself in his body.
Morning, maybe it is evening, light
is flowing through the room. Outside,
the day is slowly succeeded by night,
succeeded by day. The process wobbles wildly
and accelerates: weeks, months, years. The light in the room
does not change, so it is plain what is happening.
They are trying to become one creature,
and something will not have it. They are tender
with each other, afraid
their brief, sharp cries will reconcile them to the moment
when they fall away again. So they rub against each other,
their mouths dry, then wet, then dry.
They feel themselves at the center of a powerful
and baffled will. They feel
they are an almost animal,
washed up on the shore of a world—
or huddled against the gate of a garden—
to which they can’t admit they can never be admitted.



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Sat Feb 05, 2011 7:23 pm
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Post Re: Robert Hass
Wow, those are terrific. I didn't realize what kind of poet he is, just that he was a great ambassador of poetry. It should be a wonderful reading that I'm sure you'll enjoy and hope you will tell us about.



Sun Feb 06, 2011 8:40 am
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Post Re: Robert Hass
Here is the report.

Robert Hass presented the 3rd annual C. Burr Artz Trust lecture today to a nearly full house at the Weinberg Center in Frederick, Md. The talk he gave could have been plucked from any of his college courses on poetry. He is ever the kind, gentle guide that I so enjoyed from the Poet's Choice column. He deftly compared and contrasted the poetry and importance of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman. One of the main points Hass made was that both Dickinson and Whitman came out of radical Protestant traditions that greatly influenced their poetry. Dickinson writes almost all of her poetry in a form derived from Congregational church hymns. Okay, I don't want to write a college essay, I'll just give you some highlights. However, if you want more lecture you can listen to an NPR interview with Hass on Whitman --
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/stor ... =125789927

An idea that comes out of 19th century Protestantism and can be seen in the work of both poets:
Importance of paying attention to the movement of one’s own soul. Hass said he feels that this is what it takes to be a great poet.

Book recommendation made by Hass:
Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America by David Hackett Fischer
http://www.amazon.com/Albions-Seed-Brit ... 0195069056

Valentine written by Emily D. when she was about 16 --

Put down the apple, Adam,
And come away with me,
So shalt thou have a pippin
From off my father's tree!

Brazen Emily!

And here is an amazing and bold poem of Dickinson's that Hass read and that I'd never heard before.

I NEVER LOST AS MUCH BUT TWICE
by: Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

I NEVER lost as much but twice,
And that was in the sod;
Twice have I stood a beggar
Before the door of God!

Angels, twice descending,
Reimbursed my store.
Burglar, banker, father,
I am poor once more!


Worm Fence -- Hass explained that "worm fence" appears in one of Whitman's poems and after teaching the poem for a while he wondered what the heck a worm fence was. He looked it up in the OED. The citation said something to the effect that it was a zigzag fence found all over the Eastern US and intrinsically ugly! I'd never heard the term worm fence before, but I recognize by the definition that the beautiful fences I see all over Virginia are worm fences.

And the final thought Hass left with the audience:
The power of good poetry is that it intensifies the reader’s sense of being alive.



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DWill
Sun Feb 06, 2011 10:33 pm
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Post Re: Robert Hass
So here is one more intersection of religion and poetry. We've seen many in the Top 500, but sometimes they're more hidden, as in ED and Whitman. Atheism itself is a development from Protestantism. I recall Christopher Hitchens saying that his atheism is of the Protestant type. It's a bad idea for us to try to divorce ourselves from historical influence, which we do when we see the past as containing "mistakes" that we have overcome. Those mistakes made us. End of sermon.



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Saffron
Mon Feb 07, 2011 8:34 am
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