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This review is taken from PN Review 181, Volume 34 Number 5, May - June 2008.

GOOD COMPANION Robert Hass, Time and Materials (Poems 1997-2005) (Ecco) $22.95

Some poets make good companions. Robert Hass is one. Reading his early work became almost a guilty pleasure for me. It was the strong current of the erotic; the sensuousness of his response to the Californian landscape; his epicurean delight; the hedonistic Beat echoes. Yet, for all that, Hass managed to remain an engaged poet, in his verse as in his life.

Later I began to have reservations about the perspective. From the haiku ancients he had adopted the role of the observer and, as Peter Davison put it in a 1997 article from The Atlantic Monthly: 'his poems began to blur into a haze of contemplative passivity'. Whilst Hass's work was attractively celebratory, he seemed to be wandering off somewhere, listening to the woods, to his inner doodlings, to the dinner table voices around him.

Also, there was his change in form. The long lines of the later prose poems have the space to swallow everything Hass feels like saying but, as the poet himself acknowledged in an Iowa Review interview in 1991: 'I think I was at a time... when things were going on in my life that I didn't want to look at, didn't want to feel. And I wanted to keep writing, so I unconsciously started writing prose to avoid the stricter demands of incantation.' One result was that you can switch verses/ paragraphs of Hass around within his work and I do not know ...


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