Jul 7, 2010

Robert Hass, "Dragonflies Mating"

Reminder: you may click on any Banjo52 image to enlarge it.

Blurry with desire

All aflutter

I wonder if Robert Hass’s “Dragonflies Mating” is a history of humanity, at least our breeding, our complexity in love, including the evolutionary and the Oedipal implications. The poem is a bit long, so I’m offering the following teases in the hope of pulling you in.

“Such a terrible thing / came here with their love.”

“weeks of drinking she disappeared into.”

" . . . I’d bounce
the ball two or three times, study the orange rim as if it were,
which it was, the true level of the world, the one sure thing . . . “

“. . . [I] feel the grain of the leather in my fingertips and shoot.
It was a perfect thing; it was almost like killing her.”

“ . . . they mate and are done with mating.
They don’t carry all this half-mated longing up out of childhood
and then go looking for it everywhere.”

Notice how plain this language is. “She” disappeared into her drinking, or “I’d bounce/the ball two or three times,” or “then go looking for it everywhere.” Couldn’t such language be overheard in a coffee shop or a neighbor’s yard? But the ordinary words quickly lead to (or have grown from) images, actions, or thoughts that are anything but casual.

Here is the whole of "Dragonflies Mating":

Dragonflies Mating by Robert Hass : The Poetry Foundation [poem] : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry.

When I talked about Hass’s “Faint Music “ (May 27, 2010), I mentioned that he has me on the edge of impatience with his talk-y language. Is it poetry or prose, as I’ve asked repeatedly about contemporary verse? In both “Faint Music” and “Dragonflies Mating” I think Hass lands well inside the unsafe, tense zone of that which is poetry, where details are precise and compact, and the questions plopped on our plates are huge. Maybe it could be called poetry masquerading as conversation. The reverse of that is what causes my grumpiness.

It’s been a while since I’ve explicitly thanked The Poetry Foundation for the richness of what they make available to us. At their site, www.poetryfoundation.org , we find not only the poem, but a Dan Chiasson essay about it, as well as other work by Hass. The Poetry Foundation came into a bundle of money a few years ago, and I’m glad to see them spending it well. (Yes, my approval will make them shiver with delight).



Anonymous said...

I'll be back to read, but am charmed by the photos.

Anonymous said...

Just wonderful. I see a long fall from grace.

I've often thought how much we expect from parents, and always thinking about them, "Well, you botched that up, didn't you."

How of course they love one child more than another, for example, and are helpless to feel other than what all humans are prone to feel. How we want them to be nothing but parents, and they're almost everything but parents. Almost.

And everything is so unresolved when we go off into the world, we have to keep re-enacting the past, trying to get it right.

Funny, isn't it, the one thing we can't bear to contemplate is what our parents did to get us here in the first place.

Banjo52 said...

AH, nice new photo!

About my pics, thank you. For whatever reason I've always thought of dragonflies as larger cousins of mosquitoes, but that afternoon a couple weeks ago, I too found them charming.

I think you're right about parents, though being one has made me try for more charity, with some success.

It also surprises me when I meet people over, say, 19, who have no desire, or are unable, to speak critically of their parents or their parenting of their own children.

Does that mean there are perfect parents out there after all? If not, how are we supposed to understand ourselves without a critical (that is, assessing, analytical) eye toward those who were instrumental in forming us? Obviously we can then forgive, if we're lucky, but we don't have to go blind about EVERYthing, do we?

Also, you say, "we have to keep re-enacting the past, trying to get it right." You might be talking about "repetition compulsion." There is such a psychological term, and I keep looking it up, then forgetting it. But I think you've nailed it. If memory serves (for once), it amounts to getting too much or too little at a certain point in our development, so that we keep going back to that point for more, if was good stuff, or to"get it right" if it was bad stuff. I think it's a fascinating, maybe frightening idea. I keep meaning to look further into it, but . . . same old story.

Your last paragraph . . . guess I'll leave that alone.

It seems that all I hear lately is the psychiatric community has dumped their Oedipal/Electra thinking. I was always skeptical about it. Maybe I just didn't face it squarely, as child or parent, but it seems a bit exotic (more exotic than erotic????).

Shut up now, Banjo.

Brenda's Arizona said...

Lovely acknowledgement of the Poetry Foundation. You have made it one of my favorites. I can't just look at the page and see the poem. I have to click on every link and get lost for hours...

And your photos are impressive! Well worth studying again and again.

This Hass poem is so... interesting? Did you know he had a point to it when you were reading it? His stanzas on his mom, his reluctance to let go of the basketball court - both are way too vivid. I like your comment (in the comments) about the set point we return to. The appearance of an alcoholic mother in your gym would certainly be a recall set point.

The story in stanza 2 is vivid, too. Each father wondered the same thing, and the story continued to be passed down... just priceless.

Dragonflies mating... I'd miss my mother if I were a dragonfly. Even if she did embarrass me (and still does at times...)

Banjo52 said...

Brenda, welcome back. Believe me, I hear you about linking and clicking, not just there, but the whole internet. I wonder if I’ll ever read another book.

Thanks about the photos. This might have been the first time I got the pictures first, then tried to find a poem to accompany them. Both Hass poems I’ve posted were new to me, and I’m very glad I found them. An overall analysis of this one could get very long. I still fuss about his line breaks (or lack of them at times). And certain words. But each section has terrific power, I think, and I do think they hold together as one poem, at least OK, and maybe brilliantly. Yes, the various fathers passing things down, plus Catholic priests, alcoholic mothers, basketball, dragonflies, human sexuality (I was a teenage dragonfly, ditto my girlfriend . . ?????). And it all begins with a family hike up a familiar mountain. Wow.

I also like the way Hass works against self-centeredness. It’s not just my family hiking this mountain, but also those before us. With that one, seemingly minor and obvious observation, he goes all to those places and gets them to cohere. Without much effort, it feels like. But of course, that’s one of the oldest points about writing (all art?): it must FEEL as if it’s natural, almost spontaneous, effortless, but scarily honest and urgent. When there are poems like this out there, it’s hard to settle for less.

But some, like other Californians Kay Ryan and Kim Addonizio, pull off about that much magic in 10 – 20 lines. Well, I did say “magic.”

I wonder if “embarrass the kid” is in every mother’s contract with God or the gods . . . Dads too, of course.

Lovers' Lane