One of the members of my poetry group gave me a lovely Christmas present: a copy of Robert Hass‘ Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005. I’ve been reading it steadily for the last several days. I may not always understand where he’s going with his poems, but his sentences are wonderfully descriptive.
For example, in “Etymology,” we begin with a woman naked in front of a fireplace and somehow end up here:
The shards of skull
In the Egyptian museum looked like maps of the wind-eroded
Canyon labyrinths from which,
Standing on the verge
In the yellow of a dwindling fall, you hear
Echo and re-echo the cries of terns
Fishing the worked silver of a rapids.
In the long, narrative poem “Art and Life,” we wander from the writer’s observances of the employees in the Hague cafeteria:
She seems to be a person
Who had counted up the cost and decided what to settle for.
It’s in the way her soft, abstracted mouth
Receives the bits of bread and the placid sugars.
To, later in the same poem, an imagined life of Vermeer:
Here is the life that chose you
And the one you chose. Here is the brush, the horsehair,
Hair of the badger, the goat’s beard, the sable,
And here is the smell of paint. The volatile, sharp oils
Of linseed, rapeseed.
Most of the poems in this collection seem quite serious. Hass has a good number of long, multi-stanza pieces that imitate epic poetry. But he does include several shorter poems that possess a more playful tone. Here is part of one called “Poem with a cucumber in it.”
Since cumbersome is a word,
Cumber must have been a word,
Lost to us now, and even then,
For a person feeling encumbered,
It must have felt orderly and right-minded
To stand at a sink and slice a cucumber.
My thanks to Susanna for the gift of this collection.