By Debra Holtz
Robert Hass ’63 won the National Book Award for Poetry for his new collection, Time and Materials (2007). The poems in the collection — his first in a decade — weave together Hass’ lifelong passion for the physical world and his political sensibilities. As the title suggests, memory is a potent force in these poems. Hass uses history as a frequent point of reflection, as when grappling with the conflict in Iraq in “Bush’s War”:
“Darkening of dusk, it is a trick of the mind
That the past seems just ahead of us,
As if we were being shunted there
In the surge of a rattling funicular.”
The four-page poem summons horrific moments in history: Hiroshima, Auschwitz, the Gulag.
“Someone will always want to mobilize
Death on a massive scale for economic
Domination or revenge.”
In the ironically titled “A Poem,” Hass in narrative form recounts the Vietnam War, drawing parallels to the present: “The estimated Vietnamese casualties during the war is two million. It was a war whose principle strategy was terror. More Iraqi civilians have now been incidental casualties of the conduct of the war in Iraq than were killed by Arab terrorists in the destruction of the World Trade Center.”
Hass presents memories of his friend, Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, in some poems, while also paying tribute to the works of literary masters such as Titus Lucretius and Walt Whitman and painters Edward Hopper, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Johannes Vermeer.
A devoted ecologist, Hass’ descriptions of nature abound in the collection with frequent references to the landscapes of his native Northern California. In “September, Inverness,” he writes:
“Tomales Bay is flat blue in the Indian
This is the time when hikers on Inverness Ridge
Stand on tiptoe to pick ripe huckleberries
That the deer can’t reach. This is the season of lulls….”
In The Journey of Life — 100 Lessons from Around the World (2007), author Sharon Sobotta shares the stories of a wide array of people — artists, teachers, students, engineers, social workers and several current and former SMC campus leaders. Even the celebrities featured are a diverse bunch — Cuban leader Fidel Castro, film director Michael Moore and sitarist Anoushka Shankar.
The book’s vignettes came from interviews Sobotta conducted while traveling the world. She learned people share more similarities than differences. “This book gives us a chance to look beyond the preconceived ideas we may hold about religion, political ideology, race, class, gender and age, and focus on shared struggles and triumphs,” writes Sobotta in her introduction.
Sobotta’s interest in global travel was inspired by a trip she took to Japan as a 17-year-old who had never previously left her native Wisconsin. In more than a decade of circling the globe, she visited Uganda, Cuba, India, Sri Lanka and Qatar.
The book offers a unique perspective from 5-year-old Tamanna of Calcutta, India: “I have three brothers and a mom. We sleep in different places on different nights. Last night we slept on the balcony veranda of the cinema hall … When I grow up, I’ll be a doctor ’cause my mom told me to be a doctor.”
Nancy Glenn, associate director of Saint Mary’s Counseling Center, recommends that people take time to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses in their lives.
“I consider a life without time for reflection and introspection somewhat of an empty life,” she says. “Reflection helps me feel grounded, gives me perspective and allows time for forgiveness of my own actions and acceptance of my humanity.”
Activist filmmaker Michael Moore believes Americans need to be less apathetic, Sobotta writes. His advice: “Stay connected. Never isolate or alienate yourself from the society you live in.”