Hearing Poet Robert Hass Read (Butler Univ. Visiting Writers Series, 9/21/11)


The student introduces the poet, the prizes, the awards, his own accolades that may or may not reveal too much about himself or about the poet — definitely about the poet — and nature and imagery. Haiku, too, although this is much more than 17 syllables.

The man stands at the podium, smiling, welcoming, inviting wonder to come up on stage with him in all of her naked youth, and he talks about passing baby Oliver back and forth and passing poetry back and forth and noticing the world and falling in love. And I fall in love, but not in the way the thin girl seated in the fourth row — the one in pink shorts and a blue sweatshirt, hair pulled to one side in a lackadaisical braid, her heart tied up like a package with a bow: that one — thought she was in love last Sunday morning, but I smile just the same.

I hold tight his book of poetry, wondering how it came to be on my bookshelf. Was it a gift? Did my son go into the now-defunct Borders and ask a now-defunct clerk for a book of poetry for his mother on the occasion of her birthday? And did said clerk say “I donna know, man. This one won a prize”, reaching for a book on the prominent end cap in the not so prominent poetry section. Or did he beam from ear to ear and say breathlessly: “I don’t know your mom, but I know just the book, filled with haiku, and longer poems, and imagery and stuff, and some things that have been translated, and if you open the cover and fan the pages before you get home the beauty will fall out leaving butterfly wings in the crease between the pages, between the memory of a Japanese poet and Oh! the translations of Milosz, and fill your car, and your spirit too.”

The poet says only four poems are about his drunk mother and he read only two of them. He really writes about other things. But I think they are about his mother too. Those two say all the words that need to be said, not that there aren’t more words written on hearts and tombstones and wild pacific places, washed away by tears and spring rains, that sometime tiptoe past the dark places, that will be spun into song later. “He who receives the shock of love returns to his books with an altered face”, he tells the audience, quoting Zagajewski. Seek wonder and an interesting life, he says.

“I had this idea”, he told us, “that if I wrote a prose paragraph every day I would have a record of a life”. But, he warned, it isn’t so easy. And it is not.

This is not my song. But it may help me sing.

I keep thinking of this line which he did not read: You can fall a long way in sunlight. I take my copy of The Apple Trees of Olema, freshly signed by Mr. Hass, where I find this line on page 14, and I walk to my car with a lyric smile.

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2 responses to “Hearing Poet Robert Hass Read (Butler Univ. Visiting Writers Series, 9/21/11)

  1. I do love Milosz – that sells me. Quite apart from the fact that this is a lovely, open post.

    “This is not my song. But it may help me sing.”

    I liked that.

    • Thank you, Gabriel.

      A friend of mine is just starting the MFA program at Butler and he told me that in his current class they are writing prose poem reviews about the Visiting Writers lectures & readings. So, I thought I’d give this format a try. Rereading it this morning (and making a few slight edits — I can’t help myself!), I am pleased with what I wrote.

      Hass talked about translating Milosz, who was his neighbor for several years in California. He read some of the translations and added his own brief commentary. He is obviously in awe of Milosz. It was with both sadness and joy — with love, I think — that he read these poems and commented about how someone who had seen such horrors in his life could see such beauty.

      I’m going to send an email to you with a pdf attachment. Check you spam filter and let me know if you don’t receive.