by Neth Hass
Poetry ~ Stories ~ Essays ~ Descriptions
154 pages
Price: $12.99
Publisher: Nethanderal Books
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Reviewed by Michael Escoubas

Celebrated Irish playwright, and social critic, George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950), once said,

“I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake.”

I was reminded of Shaw’s aphorism, as I worked my way through Neth Hass’s Genica. I was struck by the depth of this writer’s mind and the range of his interests. It is as if Hass and Shaw were cut from the same cloth. The lives and work of each demonstrate an uncommon [in this reviewer’s mind] zest for life, attended by an eye for the anomalies of life.

The goal of this review is to drink from the well of Neth Hass’s creative life and serve up an imaginative “cocktail” to you, my reader.

Background & Style

The materials contained in Genica comprise a 35-year-period of life-reflections. Over time these reflections found their way onto paper, went through careful stages of editing and revision, until “parts” of the poet’s world became “the” world entitled Genica. The Author’s Note at the end of the book explains how Hass arrived at the title and opens a window into the poet's life. 

Neth Hass’s writing is difficult to pigeon hole. That is, the lineage in most compositions resembles free verse poetry; other pieces such as “How Not To Write a Poem,” present as essays, anecdotes, or short stories. Regardless of classification Hass’s writing style is engaging, witty, and wise.

I get the feeling that the writer has made his share of mistakes in life. I say this because no one could write with such insight without having “messed up” a few times. Hass says to me, “Let’s take a walk, I think the two of us may have a few things in common.”

“Wild Raspberries,” recalls a childhood memory where:

          At the edge of the field, I step into tall grass
          and negotiate a tangle of weedy brambles,
          brush and saplings bound with various vines,
          to access the luscious fruit, plump and black,
          with sweet juice as red as any blood–
          and tows and runs and ranks and racks of thorns
          reaching for my blood as I step in
          and discreetly insinuate myself among them.

This medium-length poem of 60 lines is replete with descriptions of a bird’s nest containing “two small ivory eggs,” an “intricate spider’s net,” and hidden things like ticks and chiggers, the armies of which will march up his legs, things that bite (flies and mosquitoes) and much more. This poem is a magnum opus of experiences the goal of which is to garner:

          A bowl of sun-warmed berries in fresh cold milk–
          cream, if you prefer–will be tastier
          and more nutritious for having come
          and shared in the ritual of blood sacrifice.

Ah yes! How this one spoke to my life at about age 12.

Speaking of youth, many poems serve as vivid flashbacks. For example, “Cadillac Heart Attack,” is about two boys, one of which could have been me, staffing a “full-service” gas station in the days before air-conditioning. The boys, covered in grease and sweat-drenched clothes, encounter “lush femininity” … “overflowing her skimpy garments.” Further details about those garments and what the girl says to the boys after “she rolled the window down,” await the intrepid reader.

Poetry, it has been said, “Is a response to the daily necessity of getting the world right.” Hass has thought deeply about the world. His meditative poem “Homeless” reads like a prayer. In it, the poet is on an extended winter walk. The “stirrings” of February weather “usher in the most tedious part of winter.” The poet tries to walk off his homeless mood.

Each stanza places the reader in the landscape: “The snow lies out in tatters; the air is sweet / with half-forgotten aroma of quickening earth / and lush moss caps the peaks of rock in the creek bed / like a tiny forest on a miniature mountain range.”

Throughout the poem, Hass ponders the meaning of homelessness. He and his canine companion, once abandoned with nowhere else to go, are a good fit. They pass through a neglected farm, bought and sold a hundred times, yet no one lives there. Time and abuse have laid waste to the poet’s “sliver of paradise.” The man and his companion encounter a deer herd, pensive at human presence, given the yearly autumn harvesting of their flesh. In a panic the herd disperses; a doe, in flight, becomes entangled in sharp fence wire. The poet is emotional in his concern for the wounded deer and hopes she and the herd will find each other. All of this and more become a metaphor for life, a meditation on the complexities of what it means to be human, on what it means to appreciate the time allotted to us on this earth.

I noted earlier that Neth Hass’s poetry epitomizes a zest for life. A better word might be passion. Hass, a life-long carpenter, one who measures twice, cuts once, has created a poetic edifice that will stand the test of time.

It is little wonder that Genica, was awarded the 2022 Book of the Year Prize by the Illinois State Poetry Society.


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