Robert Hass, Hunter College, Wednesday Night

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1. Tweeds and flannels await the start of the reading. 2. Chris and Phyllis, two students from Hunter’s MFA program who had recently discovered Hass’s work.

Robert Hass, who kicked off Hunter College’s reading series yesterday, has struggled throughout his career to look at the world’s unrelenting ugliness without being struck dumb. Over the last four decades he’s written six books of poetry, translated as many, and been the poet laureate of the US. Most of his work is, unsurprisingly, a somber mix of meditation and frustrated hope.

1. Rick and Tanya, another pair from the MFA program at Hunter. 2. Robert Hass reads. The crowd listens.

Hass began the reading with “Consciousness,” an investigation into the grounding image of consciousness and proceeded through about eight others. Along the way, he read “The Winged and Acid Dark.” This poem, inspired by A Woman in Berlin, was probably the most effective at doing what he seemed to want to do: to gesture at the horrible things that human beings do to each other without condemning the whole lot of us, which is a right difficult pancake.

With Hass’s poetry what it is — accessible and pertinent — it’s no surprise that many people turned out. The crowd was a mix of soulful-faced youths and earnest, academic-looking adults. Of course, as one of the guests told me, “We’re here because we have to be — We’re in the MFA program. But this was good!” Graduation requirements can fill a room even without the lure of free booze. And sometimes they do manage to teach you something.

–Jake Davis cannot find the words, and is a regular Dish contributor.

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