Lisa's Reviews > Time and Materials

Time and Materials by Robert Hass
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Jan 29, 08

Read in January, 2008

4.5 stars.

This book is well deserving of the many awards it's garnered recently, and although it took Hass 8 years to write the poems gathered here, it seems worth the time it took.

Some of his previous concerns with the failure of language (as in "Meditation at Laguinitas") remain--in "The Problem of Describing Trees," for example, "the tree danced. No./ The tree capitalized./ No. There are limits to saying,/ In language, what the tree did." He also goes back to his projects in imitation/translation, with great effect.

For the most part, Hass' language is clear and direct, though not simple. A few poems enact complex metaphors and require, delightfully so, more than one reading--"Envy of Other People's Poems," for example. Some of the longer poems are sustained meditations that don't seem bloated or overdramatic in any way.

Hass turns his attention to intimate relationships in many of the poems, with an emphasis on the celebration of the body. For example, a woman's "wetness," in that wording, appears in at least two poems, nipples and breasts in others.

Hass also writes a sort of public/political poetry--"Bush's War," for example, is a successful poem in this vein, though a few others fall short because the language seems merely lineated, didactic prose ("A Poem" and "On Visiting the DMZ at Panmunjom"). Perhaps Hass is commenting on the oversimplification of language in contemporary rhetoric, but I think it's just blah writing.

Not blah, however, is "The State of a Planet," a sweeping, long meditation on our need to pay attention to environmental issues, which asks "What is to be done withour species?" The way he weaves in various images, especially a schoolgirl walking in the rain, is masterful.
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