Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Poem by Robert Hass

I don't have a copy of Field Guide, (Yale University Press, 1973) the debut collection by Robert Hass, which won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1972.* My familiarity with his work began with a discarded copy of his second book, Praise (Ecco Press, 1979) that I picked up some years ago at a public library sale. Looking back, I can't believe that a librarian would discard such an important book, but I'm happy to have it in my hands.

The most well-known poem in Praise is, of course, "Meditation at Lagunitas," and I sometimes think I would be happy with my poet-life if I wrote one half so good, but there are many other poems in this slender volume that are worthy of the book's title. One of them is "Picking Blackberries with a Friend Who Has Been Reading Jacques Lacan." I've often wondered if the figure of Charlie in this poem is the "friend" in "Meditation" whose voice contains "a thin wire of grief, a tone / almost querulous..." I like to think it is. Perhaps I like the idea of having a name, and a bit of history as recorded in "Picking Blackberries..." to associate with the eloquent, grief-filled voice in "Meditation."

I also like the way Hass employs the word "stuns" in "Picking Blackberries..." to give a quick nod toward Sylvia Plath's "Blackberrying." Plath wrote of the flies buzzing round her English blackberries: "The honey feast of the the berries has stunned them; they believe in heaven." The acknowledgment of the debt is a classy little move, typical of the work of Robert Hass.


August is dust here. Drought
stuns the road,
but juice gathers in the berries.

We pick them in the hot
slow-motion of midmorning.
Charlie is exclaiming:

for him it is twenty years ago
and raspberries and Vermont.
We have stopped talking

about L'Histoire de la verite,
about subject and object
and the mediation of desire.

Our ears are stoppered
in the bee-hum. And Charlie,
laughing wonderfully,

beard stained purple
by the word juice,
goes to get a bigger pot.


*According to Amazon, both Field Guide and Praise have been re-issued and are available in paperback.


Blogger Andrew Shields said...

Reminds of this lovely, more recent poem by Richard Wilbur:

Blackberries for Amelia
(Richard Wilbur)

Fringing the woods, the stone walls, and the lanes,
Old thickets everywhere have come alive,
Their new leaves reaching out in fans of five
From tangles overarched by this year's canes.

They have their flowers, too, it being June,
And here or there in brambled dark-and-light
Are small, five-petalled blooms of chalky white,
As random-clustered and as loosely strewn

As the far stars, of which we now are told
That ever faster do they bolt away,
And that a night may come in which, some say,
We shall have only blackness to behold.

I have no time for any change so great,
But I shall see the August weather spur
Berries to ripen where the flowers were --
Dark berries, savage-sweet and worth the wait --

And there will come the moment to be quick
And save some from the birds, and I shall need
Two pails, old clothes in which to stain and bleed,
And a grandchild to talk with while we pick.

12:10 AM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...


Yes! Someone should do an anthology of blackberry poems.

Best Regards,

Greg Rappleye

5:36 AM  
Blogger Diane K. Martin said...

Greg, damn, that was my idea -- the anthology of blackberry poems. I talked about it years ago.

My favorite in Praise is "Songs to Survive the Summer." I like everything about it.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Diane K. Martin said...

Hmm, that sounds like "Songs" is a blackberry poem, which it isn't. Loquats, though.

1:45 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home