Time and Materials
The poems in Robert Hass's new collection—his first to appear in a decade—are grounded in the beauty and energy of the physical world, and in the bafflement of the present moment in American culture. This work is breathtakingly immediate, stylistically varied, redemptive, and wise.
His familiar landscapes are here—San Francisco, the Northern California coast, the Sierra high country—in addition to some of his oft-explored themes: art; the natural world; the nature of desire; the violence of history; the power and limits of language; and, as in his other books, domestic life and the conversation between men and women. New themes emerge as well, perhaps: the essence of memory and of time.
The works here look at paintings, at Gerhard Richter as well as Vermeer, and pay tribute to his particular literary masters, friend Czeslaw Milosz, the great Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, Horace, Whitman, Stevens, Nietszche, and Lucretius. We are offered glimpses of a surprisingly green and vibrant twenty-first-century Berlin; of the demilitarized zone between the Koreas; of a Bangkok night, a Mexican desert, and an early summer morning in Paris, all brought into a vivid present and with a passionate meditation on what it is and has been to be alive. "It has always been Mr. Hass's aim," the New York Times Book Review wrote, "to get the whole man, head and heart and hands and everything else, into his poetry."
Every new volume by Robert Hass is a major event in poetry, and this beautiful collection is no exception.
Thefirst book in 10 years from former U.S. poet laureate Hass may be his best in 30: these new poems show a rare internal variety, even as they reflect his constant concerns. One is human impact "on the planet at the century's end": a nine-part verse-essay addressed to the ancient Roman poet Lucretius sums up evolution, deplores global warming and says that "the earth needs a dream of restoration in which/ She dances and the birds just keep arriving." Another concern is biography and memory, not so much Hass's own life as the lives of family and friends. A poem about his sad father and alcoholic mother avoids self-pity by telling a finely paced story. Hass also commemorates the late Polish Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz, with whom he collaborated on translations; condemns war in harsh, stripped-down prose poems; explores achievements in visual art from Gerhard Richter to Vermeer; and turns in perfected, understated phrases on Japanese Buddhist models. Through it all runs a rare skill with long sentences, a light touch, a wish to make claims not just on our ears but on our hearts, and a willingness to wait few poets wait longer, it seems for just the right word.