Sometimes in a schematic mood, I divide poets into Emilys and Tennysons–Emilys belong to the pare-it-down, nail-it-tight school of poetry. Tennysons to the broader sweeping, celebratory school. Their music is different. They look different on the page–Emily’s tiny explosions, Tennyson’s ranging and gathering, examining and weeping.
The title of Minnesota poet Margaret Hasse’s newest collection–Earth’s Appetites (Nodin Press)–suggests the enjoyment and range of her verse. I like her best when she focuses closer, as in “Consideration for the Feet,” when an inspection of feet above the bath water, “rosy as babies” becomes “They have been wild to waltz./ They march when I’m mad.” Or in a tea garden, after naming and sampling teas, she and a friend remember “threshold events” and she gives a haunting rendition of a dying brother’s request that bits of his ash be put in things he liked: “his banjo, top drawer of his desk, the garden.” Such poignant specificity is hard to forget.
Those of us around her age flinch as she does, climbing down the ladder to a swimming pool, worried people will notice “her thighs wrinkle like crepe.” Or appreciate the methodical, tender way she folds away things her visiting son has left, ending with “I wander around the house, visit his empty room,/ nothing to fold except my hands.” This is giving raw power to a time-honored religious phrase.
Speaking of endings, a poem titled “Grave” goes entirely against the notion of death, as she describes love-making on the grave of her family. This poem ends wonderfully:
A light joy talcs my body as if
I were abandoned as a child, then
fell into good hands. (27)
It’s odd that her poems about childhood and youth resonate less with me than the more up-to-date renditions of experience. That is, all except the first poem in the book:Truant. I never left school in the middle of the day, as she describes doing, tooling around with a guy, but the joy of remembering “a meadowlark’s liquid song” sets us up for a sassy, prophetic ending that sounds just the way a principal should:
“This will be part of
your permanent record”
That record reverberates through what we are now reading with so much pleasure, honoring Margaret Hasse’s powers of description, insight, shaping, and surprise.