Friday, May 8, 2009

Time and Materials (Robert Hass)

This is a book of poetry, so let's see how this works out. Robert Hass is a highly renowned American poet. He's won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, twice won the National Book Critics Circle Award (once for poetry and once for criticism), and he's even been Poet Laureate of the United States. I hear he's a pretty decent writer.


Time and Materials, released in 2007, is the book that won Hass the Pulitzer Prize. It's quite a well-respected book. Now, I'm a poet. I've studied poetry, I've written a lot of poetry, I'm getting a Masters in poetry, so it's from a lofty, pretentious, highly informed poetic pedestal that I attempted to look at these poems. Apparently I'm not poetic enough, though. I had a tough time connecting with these materials (see what I just did there?), and believe a full appreciation of this book can be obtained just by reading the following series of words:

August, October, aspen, dawn, summer, thrush, pine, hawk, cottonwood, trees, trees, dawn, river, birds, trees, dawn, woman, birds, trees, dawn, sunlight, water, Czeslaw Milosz.

I wish that was an exaggeration. Every single poem in this book is a variation on one general theme: relate an anecdote that could be considered a philosophical experience, and make sure to include as many of the aforementioned words as possible. Here's an example, an excerpt from his poem "The Problem Of Describing Trees:"

The aspen glitters in the wind
And that delights us.

The leaf flutters, turning,
Because that motion in the heat of August
Protects its cells from drying out. Likewise the leaf
Of the cottonwood.

Compare that to another excerpt, this one from "A Supple Wreath Of Myrtle:"

Poor Nietzsche in Turin, eating sausage his mother
Mails to him from Basel. A rented room,
A small square window framing August clouds
Above the mountain. Brooding on the form
Of things: the dangling spur
Of an Alpine columbine, winter-tortured trunks
Of cedar in the summer sun, the warp in the aspen's trunk
Where it torqued up through the snowpack.

Or to "That Music," a poem of only 8 lines that still manages to contain several of his favorite words:

The creek's silver in the sun of almost August,
And bright dry air; and last runnels of snowmelt,
Percolating through the roots of mountain grasses
Vinegar weed, golden smoke, or meadow rust,

Do they confer, do the lovers' bodies
In the summer dusk, his breath, her sleeping face,
Confer—, does the slow breeze in the pines?
If you were the interpreter, if that were your task.

Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that he isn't an excellent poet. I think that Robert Hass is an incredibly talented writer, and has a poetic mastery over the ability to convey emotions that words normally have trouble reaching. Individually, I enjoyed many of the poems, especially "Winged and Acid Dark" and "The Problem Of Describing Color." It's hard to take him seriously when so many of his poems end up looking exactly the same, though. It's borderline satirical. I recently attended a Robert Hass reading, and despite how engaging and animated he was, I found it difficult to follow him after the first few poems because they were so similar. It was hard to distinguish where one ended and the next began, especially since he tended to pause and comment on his own writing in the middle of some of the readings. I spoke with him after, and he's a great guy, but I wouldn't highly recommend his work.


Time an Materials
by Robert Hass

I've decided not to do ratings on any poetry reviews. Poetry is an extremely personal art, and it's much harder to judge such a subjective thing by objective criteria. Some people are more attracted than I am to the naturey, Midwestern feel of Hass' work. If any of the excerpts I've provided here hit you in a way that they hadn't affected me, check out some of his other work and let me know what you think. Or better yet, tell me why I'm wrong, and why Robert Hass is the greatest living American poet. I'd love to hear some of your opinions!

Keep reading, Genoshans!

No comments:

Post a Comment

Contact Information and FTC Disclaimer

FTC Rules: While I do not make any money from authors, publishers, or anyone else related to these books in exchange for these reviews, there have been times where I've received free copies of a book to be reviewed, and may receive more in the future. Due to FTC compliance rules, however, you should always assume that I have an ulterior motive, and thank them for their unceasing vigilance in the face of this ever-increasing threat of blog advertising.

If you would like to contact me regarding a book you would like reviewed, or for writing matters in general, feel free to email me at