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 Warming Lines of Ross Gay

Someone sent me a copy of “A Small Needful Fact”, its top right corner torn just a little into the words. It was the first poem of Ross Gay’s I had ever read, and since, I’ve been hooked by this poet-community orchardist. One year, I memorized and performed his “Ode to the Puritan in Me” for one of our poetry classes. It’s a poem whose words seem to tumble from themselves, coming from some unsourceable place, and trilling outwards until no reader can deny an impossible beauty in the world. Gay somehow manages to take the smallest, most personal moments of our existence, and string them out further, and further, making the reader gasp and feel the sky somewhere above them, the rich dirt somewhere beneath them.

As a nature lover, there was something instinctually grabbing about Gay’s poetry. He often draws from his experiences as a community orchardist in Indiana in his most recent book, A Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude. As the title suggests, the natural world becomes a leaping-off point for entirely down-to-earth spiritual revelations in the form of deep gratitude. Gay works with trees and dirt and fruit to speak beyond the categories of natural and human.  “A Small Needful Fact” is a response to Eric Garner, but instead of the brutality of his death, we get this delicate image of Garner’s hands, working for the “Parks and Rec. / Horticulture Department…put gently into the earth / some plants”. The image of these plants and all they serve is developed to a heartbreaking realization through the course of the poem of the fact of a life that was lost. It’s a political poem that sees, undeniably, human kind with a compassion more akin to a monk than a poet.

On a level of craft, Gay tends to linger on form that enforces the overwhelming revelation so often present in his work. In A Catalogue of Unabashed Gratitude, he tends towards long poems, covering several pages, but with clipped line breaks. Most notably, “Ode to the Fig Tree on Ninth and Christian”, one of the more recognized poems from the collection, with lines of about three words apiece. From the opening moment of the poem: Tumbling through the / city in my / mind”, the short lines are serving a clear purpose. This is truly a tumbling piece, a man slipping from city to tree to sweet figs to all the people standing around him, and onward to much larger ideas. The line breaks keep the reader digging, rushing along to see what comes next, and so we are kept in tempo with the speaker.

Reading this piece on the verge of my own true poetry education, I began to realize the purpose poetry serves in a world that has prose to tell stories and communicate characters. A poem cannot be really read without becoming part of its collective experience. The form often forces us to do so in an immediate sense. The associative leaps, a few moments later, really take the brain spinning into another experience, accepting the limitations and lens of this new world by becoming it. Inspired by Gay, I began to take risks with form: at first with the obvious line clipping, and then by gently weaning my narrative frame of thought towards something more honest to the human thought, allow myself to take some leaps when writing.

Ross Gay teaches me, every time I read his lines, of a larger and deeper unity in the world than we can normally imagine. He also teaches me, as a writer, to expand my definition of what will connect with a reader, and become more honest on the page: whether that honesty is through form or subject.

Ana Shaw, Senior Editors-in-Cheif