I am again blogging from the Reagan County Library in Big Lake, Texas. I appreciate that this rural library now has a great computer lab.
Poetry is not easy to read. I have just finished Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 by Robert Hass, which is nominated for the National Book Award for poetry. I have mixed feelings about this collection. There were some poems I understood and liked, but I was unable on the first attempt to find the meaning of others.
One of the reasons that many people do not like poetry is they do not understand it. That seems a rather narrow view to take, but I think not understanding is why people have many of their prejudices. They do not like certain forms of music, computers, electronic devices, other people, or foreign nations because they do not understand them. Understanding takes effort. With poetry, you can reread. You can read aloud. With a good try, you can eventually get it. Perhaps reading poetry can teach patience and be practice for other forms of tolerance. You do not want to have a closed mind.
In the next to last poem in the collection, "Exit, Pursued by a Sierra Meadow," Hass says that beauty is "unendurable." Humans do not really value what is not immediately useful. He is commenting on the beauty of park land and wildlife in this poem, but he could apply the thought to poetry as well.
Birds appear in many of the poems as the focus or as incidental details. I wonder whether they have a certain meaning to Hass or whether he just likes birds. The truth is probably a bit of both. In "On Visiting the DMZ at Panmunjom: A Haibun," the cattle egrets at the end of the poem seem to be the witnesses of human folly. Perhaps they will even inherit the earth after all the people have been killed by war.
While most of the poems are environmental, the poet does get political in "Ezra Pound's Proposition." Look out, World Bank and Halliburton! Robert Hass has figured you out. I do not know what the reference to Pound in the title means; he is not mentioned in the poem.
My favorite poem is "Art and Life," in which the poet looks at paintings in the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague. When he lunches in the museum cafeteria, he looks at the staff, wondering who has restored the paintings, bringing back their colors, peeling back time. I also enjoyed the little stories in "Domestic Interiors" especially the incident in which a village comes together when it loses its electricity.
Not many libraries have Time and Materials, but I think that they should consider it. It may never be popular but some one is going to enjoy it very much.
Hass, Robert. Time and Materials: Poems, 1997-2005. CCCO, 2007. ISBN 9780061349607.