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Amber Paulen

Poetry Reading: Robert Hass

June is an exciting month in Rome for the literarily inclined. There’s the International Literature Festival held in the Basilica Massenzio as well as the mostly poetic events hosted by John Cabot University. Last night was the first of the latter, a poetry reading in both English and Italian by Robert Hass and his translator Damiano Abeni. Not ever having heard of Robert Hass, his illustrious career guaranteed a great reading, and it was.

Poetry is the music of words and Hass played his rhythms in his very unassuming voice. He read his poems and as he read I felt them live in me. Poetry works in that amazing way, like music, that strikes emotions directly, unlike prose that sort of shovels up emotions to contemplate. Poetry shows us that they’re there, reveals what’s hidden for a single blazing moment, that again disappears.

I don’t remember the names of the poems Hass read but that several had to do with blackberries. I had trouble seeing because two very tall men were sitting in front of me, their families reflections of each other, one with a son, the other with a daughter; the one wearing pearls, the other without make-up. And I think they were both from the American Academy, a place that gives me shivers of pretentiousness, although I wouldn’t mind using their library.

At the end, after a question, Hass talked a little about the post-structuralist theories that were so popular in the 80s (and the influence can still be felt). He explained, not that I’m clear, that they have something to do with stripping words of meanings and that only because there is a word, there is a meaning, which is only possible because of the lack; how there are no nouns, but only verbs, which seems to me true as everything is always changing. But what I found most interesting was when he was asked what he thought of those theories when he first heard them, and he said shock. As a poet, as a writer, the word has reality, which the writer conveys powerfully by drawing on rhythms, past meaning, symbolism unknowing, hidden in the folds of most every brain; the writer and poet bring these to the surface in a blazing moment, then fades and life moves forward, I’m hungry. But we remember.


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