Poets Online Archive
The newest poetry collection from Robert Hass, Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005, is his first to appear in a decade. In some ways the poems are familiar. There are some set in his California. He addresses art and literature, nature, desire, history and historic figures, and domestic life. There are bits of conversations.
But I also read more poems in this collection about memory and the failure of memory, or perhaps the failure of language to describe the passage of time. At times the poems' forms seem broken.
Such is the case with his "Futures in Lilacs" that we looked at for this prompt, as in these concluding lines:
He was in love with a trolley conductor
The book's title has a date range such as we might find on a "selected poems" and the idea of "materials" suggests the things we build our poem from that we have collected over time. I have heard Hass read some of these poems over the last 10 years, and the book seems to me to be a kind of selected poems.
I know that Hass has done readings with his wife, Brenda Hillman. I don't believe I have heard them read together, though I have heard both of them at Dodge Poetry Festivals. For this prompt, I have paired two of their poems.
I chose Brenda Hillman's "Male Nipples" from an older book of hers called Loose Sugar. I am imagining that the "she" of Hass 'poem is Brenda, and that the man in her poem is Robert - though it doesn't really matter if I am wrong about that.
I like that both these poems have in them some of the erotic conversation of couples. Those conversations (not always with words) exist within a real world, and along with the connections we make to both the past and the world around them.
For this prompt, work with the materials of a couple's conversation, and have it exist within a frame of both the past and present.
There's more about this prompt and the opportunity to post your own comments on the Poets Online Blog.
FIELD OF VISION
"Tus Ojos Me Estan Mirando." Remember
how I wooed you in foreign language
with cheap Spanish wine from a bota
lifted high, the crisp silver stream
cascading into your open mouth.
And then you’d court me with ancient
English song, a tang on the tongue.
"Drink to me only with thine eyes."
Today a doctor peers into your pupils,
and beyond, your eyes still blue
as a mountain tarn. The pressure’s
too high. We could have told him,
you and I. What does medicine know
of your vision? or of mine?
Two aging lovers will follow their
melodic line into the gloaming,
and the dark. "Come along, come
along, let us woo the dust
together." Open your hand then,
"A coffeehouse is a place for people who want to be alone
but need company for it." Alfred Polgar
Your inner child?
Who ARE you?
You don't think we are totally out of tune?
There's no answer to the question what. Ask me why or how.
I don't know if I can go through all that again. Can you?
What's this? A rehearsal?
LINES BETWEEN LOVES AND POETS
It is said that Mrs Blake said,
"If you are looking for William
Go the garden behind the house,
He is there talking to angels."
While Juliette, Hugo’s long love,
"Oh Victor you still desire me
And I thought it was linden flower tea,".
She laughs, "you wanted."
You can take any line of Elizabeth Barrett
Even if it is too sweet
In bitter times
It talks of loves defiance and hope..
My choices were poor
They were bitter teachers
In cold schools on dark winter mornings.
One thought herself
As writing of her mother’s love,
Her pride in making her, 'so cool,'
Like a white refrigerator
A Kenmore in a Sears window.
"You like ballet
Isn’t it a faggy thing...
And the corps de ballet
So lily white
The tickets are too close
You have cut their points and toes.
One wrote this is my haiku.
St Joseph is my favored saint
He pays the bills that God forgot.
And if you call me a shrew
Just wait as I execute
To dig within the earth for bones.
But I still come back to choices;
Ones family's Sunday Chinese suppers
With one from column A
Or one from Column B
Or the never ordered A la Carte.
With Szechwan pepper
To tinkle and paralyze the tongue.
He told her
He stopped sleeping when he met her
Eyes closed, her image still danced before him
Danced and called him and he had to know
Had to know her
He told her
In her eyes was a mystery he never tired of observing
Stroking her soft skin he found his solace, the quiet
Harmony of the heart's full music
Playing for them both
She told him
There will be a day for us
When your fingers again will be entwined in mine
He told her
She told him
The leaves are falling slowly
Winter comes, see the frozen webs
I am cold, I am sinking inwards
She told him
You are an empty shadow in the quiet of my mind
“You’d rather be sitting on a deck chair in the Caribbean doing your nails
A little anxiously I propose—
“Gentle, gentle kisses on your inner arm.
Will you ever learn to stop trying to make me feel guilty?
What an e-mail!
Yes, we had lunch the following Saturday
I hear my lover tripping down the stairs