February 2008

Arts & Letters

‘Time and Materials: Poems 1997–2005’ by Robert Hass

By Greg McLaren

Time and Materials, Robert Hass’s fifth collection, won the 2007 American National Book Award for poetry. Surprisingly for a poet of his stature and longevity, Hass doesn’t yet have a selected volume to his name. Such modesty is in keeping with his key poetic impulse: to approach the sublime through the ephemeral. If this creates problems for writing experience, sublime or not, Hass copes with them, facing the limits of language as it encounters sheer presence. He argues that self and other, presence and sublimity, are interconnected in ways that are beyond speech.

The difficulties of what is unsayable, and of empathy, form an ongoing question running through the book: ‘What would you do if you were me?’ To represent otherness (or indeed, self) is ‘to render time and stand outside / The horizontal rush of it’. By both resisting language’s limitations and accepting its inevitable reductiveness, Hass is able to represent experience with something approaching fidelity. In fact, when he hints at the work of representing the otherness of nature, Hass drifts through these limitations: he shifts from confidently stating, ‘The aspen glitters in the wind / And that delights us,’ to seeing only ‘The aspen doing something in the wind’. This isn’t an evasion, but instead enacts the difficulty in trying to represent anything, yet proceeding nonetheless. That these issues necessarily resist resolution may actually be Hass’s point: if, as he argues almost metaphorically, ‘A line is the distance between two points,’ then perhaps writing provides a barrier to direct experience. Cloaking his doubt in itself like this, he delves into impossibilities.

Late in the book, Hass’s career-long conversation with the community of writers and artists (notable in the numerous poems revelling in a painterly attention to colour, texture and movement) broadens out past those milieux as he opens up his sensibility to more overtly political material (‘Bush’s War’, ‘A Poem’, ‘On Visiting the DMZ at Panmunjon’), which tends to suffer from his unfamiliarity, I think, with the technical and tonal challenges of politically engaged, discursive poetry. This reaching beyond the familiar, though flawed, marks Hass as a very substantial poet, one prepared to fail in order to expand his already impressive range.

Cover: February 2008

February 2008

From the front page

On the demerits

The government’s union-busting legislation is in the balance

You could drive a person crazy: Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at their career best in this bittersweet tale of divorce

Image of ‘Wild River, Florida’

‘Civilization: The Way We Live Now’

The beautiful photographs of often grim subjects in NGV Australia’s exhibition raise questions over the medium’s power to critique

“Not today”?

When fire-struck communities start talking about climate, politicians must listen


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Johnny O’Keefe & Jack Benny

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The perfectly bad sentence

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

Mane attraction

Davy Jones, September 2006. © Karla Kaulfuss/Flickr

Sunshine on my brain

The pop genius of The Monkees


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Jia Tolentino

Radical ambiguity: Jia Tolentino, Rachel Cusk and Leslie Jamison

The essay collections ‘Trick Mirror’, ‘Coventry’ and ‘Make It Scream, Make It Burn’ offer doubt and paradoxical thinking in the face of algorithmic perfectionism

Image of Archie Roach

A way home: Archie Roach

The writer of ‘Took the Children Away’ delivers a memoir of his Stolen Generations childhood and an album of formative songs

Image from ‘The Irishman’

Late style: Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’

Reuniting with De Niro, Pacino and Pesci, the acclaimed director has delivered less of a Mob film than a morality play

Still from Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

No one’s laughing now: Todd Phillips’ ‘Joker’

A gripping psychological study of psychosis offers a surprising change of pace in the superhero genre


More in Noted

Image of ‘Wild River, Florida’

‘Civilization: The Way We Live Now’

The beautiful photographs of often grim subjects in NGV Australia’s exhibition raise questions over the medium’s power to critique

Cover of ‘The Testaments’

‘The Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood

The Booker Prize–winning sequel to ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ is an exhilarating thriller from the “wiliest writer alive”

Cover of ‘The Man Who Saw Everything’

‘The Man Who Saw Everything’ by Deborah Levy

The British author experiments with a narrative structure that collapses past and present

‘The weekend’ cover

‘The Weekend’ by Charlotte Wood

The Stella Prize–winner returns with a stylish character study of women surprised by age


Read on

You could drive a person crazy: Noah Baumbach’s ‘Marriage Story’

Adam Driver and Scarlett Johansson are at their career best in this bittersweet tale of divorce

Blockade tactics

Inside the 2019 IMARC protests

Image of ‘How To Do Nothing’

‘How To Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy’

Jenny Odell makes a convincing case for moving beyond the ruthless logic of use

Image from ‘The Hunting’

It’s complicated: ‘The Hunting’

This Australian series offers a sophisticated examination of teenage lives online


×
×