You can analyze the music of poetry, but it’s difficult to conduct an argument about its value, especially when it’s gotten into the blood. It becomes autobiography there. -Robert Haas
Most people don’t read poetry.
It’s an art form that has lost its appeal in our world. And no one really stops to care or wonder why.
At 8 p.m. on Friday, Robert Hass and Brenda Hillman will read their work at Campbell Hall. The couple – who each recently published a new volume of work – are acclaimed poets as well as professors at UC Berkeley and St. Mary’s College, respectively.
Hass was the U.S. Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997. He has translated the work of Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz and is renowned as a “nature poet.” Hillman has won numerous fellowships and the Delmore Schwarz Memorial Award for Poetry. She continues to express interest in “feminine spirit and nature writing” and tends to experiment in trends of poetry.
But these are not the only reasons you should hear them read.
To hear and see any artist perform their work can change the way you view that art form. Hearing an author read can bring the work to life in new ways. It gives a different dimension to a poem, something that may not come through on the page.
It doesn’t make a bad poem good, but it can make a good poem easier to understand.
“You get perspective in hearing a human voice,” Hillman said. “It doesn’t necessarily make the poem. If the words aren’t there, you definitely can’t fake it in a reading.”
To hear beautiful language spoken is an incredible experience. Language isn’t something most people think about on a daily basis, but it’s a large part of what makes us human. It allows us to communicate; it brings people together.
“Poetry is one of the most beautiful and ancient art forms – language is our greatest tool, and poetry is the best language,” Hillman said over the phone Tuesday night. She talked about how she sees poetry as a grounding force that can take daily life and make it more interesting.
“Poetry – even though it’s ethereal in some people’s minds – is really grounding. There’s really a terrible need, or maybe a terrific need, for a kind of depth and examining and loving of the spiritual condition that poetry offers,” she said. “I try to make layers of meaning where there wasn’t before, especially out of daily life.”
Poetry – and all art – has the ability to tell interesting and important stories and convey them in a beautiful manner. It can also make details, which could be considered mundane, profound. Both Hass and Hillman do this in their work, but in starkly different ways.
Hillman describes herself as more “experimental” – her poems are more abstract than her husband’s are. She said Hass’ philosophies are closer to romantic and classical – he uses his poems as a medium to talk about the importance of caring for and knowing nature.
Hillman also emphasized that both are “really wild thinkers,” and encouraged everyone to at least come and listen on Friday.
“Even if people have to delve to find out the meaning of poetry, it gives more wisdom in one line than most writing does,” she said.
Any art form can feel inaccessible if it challenges the comfort level of participants. In our society, where dumbed-down, disposable entertainment is the norm, great poetry offers unique insight. Hillman and Hass are great poets.
Give it a chance. You may leave with a new perspective on poetry.