Friday, October 29, 2010

Robert Hass in Seattle Thanks to SAL

I didn't even know. How could I have missed that Robert Hass is extraordinary? 

Last night in Seattle, thanks to Seattle Arts and Lectures,  Robert Hass awed and moved us with his poems, his translations of Milosz, his unpublished notebooks grappling with the death of his brother, and his generous wit. But what struck me most of all was his embodiment of poetry; in other words, his way of being a poet in the world. I don't want to overly romanticize this, but it seems important to mention.There were entire bolts of poetry (not just a bit of fabric)  -- from the Japanese, from the transliterated Polish, from his work that he could access easily and recite to us. This was measured with comments about the world of parenthood -- at one point he said something to the effect that as a parent, if you don't find a way to love the everydayness of life, you're sunk. In other words, he seemed comfortable in ancient Japanese texts, Walt Whitman's dictionaries, and checking out fellow passengers on an airplane. The audience seemed as enamored with him as I was; it was an evening that reminded me why poetry matters in the world. I left Benaroya Hall feeling connected and compassionate towards people, dogs, and all the worlds beyond my world. I realized in my very minuscule way, I get to participate in this profound tradition. How better to live this one life?

Here is one of the translations Hass read of Milosz's final poems, translated by his good friend and neighbor for many years, Robert Hass.

From the 0! series


Edward Hopper (1882-1967)
A Hotel Room (image above)
Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Lugano

O what sadness unaware that it's sadness!
What despair that doesn't know its despair!

A business woman, her unpacked suitcase on the floor, sits on a bed half undressed, in red underwear, her hair impeccable, she has a piece of paper in her hand, probably with numbers.

Who are you? Nobody will ask. She doesn't know either.

This is a wonderful poem, but in Hass's voice it elevated to a truly great poem. Again and again, I had the experience of hearing the poems delivered in his lilting voice that I had previously read on the page. Although I had never met Robert Hass before, nor do I know much about him, I went away last night believing that he was able to infuse the poems with so much empathy, with so much (can I say it) love, that the poems reached heights that just aren't possible on the page. Sure, I've had this sense that a poet was a strong reader before, but this was different.

One of my favorite lines of the night was: 

"There should be a phrase for something like passenger tenderness." 

To read Robert Hass's translation note as well as the whole O! series, check out this blog that I've just discovered with an intriguing name: instant librarian.


  1. RE: "There should be a phrase for something like passenger tenderness."

    I wrote that down too. He was inspiring.

  2. Hi Kelli, Thanks for this! I love going to readings where I am without expectation and being blown away. Reading his book, Time and Materials, and your book, Letters from the Emily Dickinson today (in a cupcake shop). Until soon ~

  3. He's marvelous, isn't he!

    The Library of Congress has a lot of Hass resources, including audio and video.