Robert Hass: A Poetry Wizard

Meditation at Lagunitas, a Robert Hass classic, changed the way I write poetry. Every time I read it, I grasp something I missed before. On my first read, I grasped this emotional connection but to what I wasn’t sure. This idea of making the reader feel something they didn’t know existed within them, nor know how or why, was new and brilliant to me. I soon fell into the trap, which is intentionally set from the beginning, of being so intrigued I had to know how Hass was able to pull this emotional connection out of me, although I barely understood the context of the poem at the time. Once I read the poem a second time, I found evidence in the subtle switch from a macro, philosophical view of the world to another view that was much more micro and personal. The poem starts out, “All of the new thinking is about loss” and from there builds upon human experience which creates the series of lines, “But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread/ the thing her father said that hurt her, what/ she dreamed”. The switch adds layers to what could have been a simple poem.

Typically, my own poems are about human experiences, but I am always looking for ways to make them more dynamic than what is on the surface. I find myself so inspired by Hass’ ability to do this, that I tend to follow suit by building upon the experience with more than the physical. Suddenly salt is describing the faults and impurities in a relationship. Light is no longer so happy, types of light take the form of the darkness and showcase the ugly and unmanageable parts about being in a relationship. I do this in trying to master the flow of reality with other-worldly, macro and micro, that Hass showcases in all his poems.

In the poem Misery and Splendor, Hass uses setting to create juxtaposing images. With lines like, “Morning, maybe it is evening…” and “Outside,/ the day is slowly succeeded by night,/ succeeded by day…”, the reader is imagining conflicting images. One light and beautiful and another dark and long. This allows the reader to feel the confusion, the back and forth, the speaker and the character of the poem feels. The confusion of most human-to-human interactions. Hass also plays with time. In some parts of the poem, there is this splendor in how quickly time is passing by and in others you feel the misery in how slow time is moving. All of this represents the what-could-have-been and what-is central idea of the poem. With all these dynamics, there has to be some kind of grounding factor. In the case of Misery and Splendor Hass contains the dynamics with this everlasting image of light and his use of statements. The quality of light dictates how intensity of a moment. This couple is in this other room where light is “flowing” through it but the statement goes to say, “They feel themselves at the center of a powerful/ and baffled will…”.

Reading any of Robert Hass’ poems, I am put into the mindset of what truly mastered craft is. I find that the more I read of his poems, the more it is natural for me to incorporate his techniques into my own writing and that has gotten me through a lot of rough patches in my writing. Whenever I find a new technique used in a Hass poem, I immediately try to incorporate that same technique into my own poems.

Lex Hamilton, Co-Marketing Editor/Soical Media Editor

The Reach of Loss and Longing

I feel as though, whenever I’m having trouble digesting something or with my writing, I find myself going back through my origins. My roots. By this, I mean where my writing began. What has inspired me the most. I’ve read and been introduced to so many words and pieces and writers through my journey of being a writer of my own.

The first poem I can really remember being hit by, my breath taken away from such a small amount of lines, I read my freshman year of high school. I found the piece scrolling through a website for inspiration and got just that. Matt Rasmussen’s, “After Suicide [a Hole is Nothing]” struck something deep within me. Blew some fuse that hadn’t really been lit yet, not so early on in my experience with the writing program. This poem was the first one I’d read and really understood, I think. Before, most of the writing I’d been introduced to had gone over my head, with meanings and messages too layered, too thick and dense for my young arms to grasp correctly. Too much for me to understand.

The brevity and specificity of this poem grabbed onto me. How much Rasmussen was able to say, the depth of the emotions he describes in so short a number of lines was unreal. It was almost like an epiphany for me, reading that poem. That was the moment I realized I could write about anything. I could take something so deeply personal to me and put it on the drawing board, stretch those emotions I felt to the reader and allow them to sit in on the moment with me. Before then, I hadn’t really thought there was room for my own feelings in my writing, but rather those of a character. I understood, when I read Rasmussen’s poem, that it was real. Even if it wasn’t his experience exactly, it was something he’d felt. Some sort of grief or loss. A longing.

To say I’ve attempted an emulation of Rasmussen’s poem would be to say I tried to write. That, of course, if what I’ve been doing from the moment I discovered the poem. However, I don’t think I achieved that level of personality and authenticity in my own poems until this year, when I dug so deep into myself that it began to hurt. That’s when I started to put myself into the writing, the things I’d experienced, or thought of, or felt. That longing, not matter what it may be for, belongs in the writing. It needs to be there.

Kinley Dozier, Senior Managing Editor

The Fish

The only time I have really felt discouraged from my writing was when I assumed that writing had to add up to something profound. Over two months ago, I read “The Fish” by Elizabeth Bishop and it reassured me that what I was doing was fine. In my own writing, I spend a lot of time on the textual details of every sense—sight, taste, sound, smell, and touch. I think that my biggest insecurity came from believing that no one cared for the details. In a fiction story, the details are the most important part. Since my focus is in poetry at the moment, I was nervous to give too much to the reader. Naturally, I give everything away with taking the reader to the specific moment instead of telling them.

Every time I read “The Fish” it speaks to something different. The first time I read it, I was convinced that it was about the inevitable realization and last fight of death. In literal terms, I think that this poem is successful in showing that. It’s easy to get lost in the descriptive details. My favorite lines were “I stared and stared and victory filled up/the little rented boat/from the pool of bilge/ where oil had spread a rainbow around the rusted engine.” I fell in love with these lines because it reminded me of the slippery love/anti love and triumph/victory that can be applied to any situation in writing. I was amazed how linear and cohesive all the images felt. Even reading the poem out loud was swift and rolled off the tongue easily. The couple of jarring lines added to the effect of disruption in the poem, which aided to the personal experience I felt. I wasn’t just thinking about this fish, I was thinking about myself.

Reading this poem when I was going through insecurities in my own writing has made me question if other writers feel the same. Recently, I learned that Elizabeth bishop went through countless and countless drafts of the poem before finally publishing it. She held on to the poem for years, probably altering a couple of words or staying up all night not knowing what was missing. Keeping the poem for so many years makes me wonder when Elizabeth decided that the poem was finally “done.” After reading the poem again, at a different point in my writing, I can see the vulnerability and beauty of the fish as symbolism of who the speaker is. Every time I read the poem, I find myself learning new things about myself and how I am feeling, solely based on the mood I am in. “The Fish” is coated in metaphors and descriptive language that speaks nothing but truth and identity.

Evelyn Alfonso, Poetry Editor