Review by George Sibley
Water Poetry – June 2005 – Colorado Central Magazine
Colorado, Mother of Rivers: Water Poems
By Justice Greg Hobbs
Published in 2005 by the Colorado Foundation for Water Education
WALLACE STEGNER, a great writer of the real West, has said that “no place, not even a wild place, is a place until it has had that human attention that at its highest reach we call poetry.” If this be true, then Colorado becomes more of a place with the publication of Justice Greg Hobbs’ collection of “water poems”: Colorado, Mother of Rivers.
Justice Hobbs is of course not the first to take on the challenge of shaping this amalgam of real estate ventures, mountains, irrigation ditches, gathering rivers, abandoned leaky mines, cities trying to be towns, towns trying to be villages, main chancers, last chancers, Armageddonites, bib-overall escapists, and the other uphill phenomena of America into an actual coherent place.
He writes – maybe even a little consciously – in the tradition of Colorado’s greatest poet, Thomas Hornsby Ferril. Hobbs wants to wake us up to this mix of geography, history, stories and lies, individuals good and bad, the whole biogeoanthropochemical soup we call life, and what it’s been up to in this foursquare blanket-over-a-fence we call Colorado.
There may no longer be “eagles older than Denver is,” as Ferril said there were when he made his move from journalism to poetry. But the Justice’s poetry continues in that same motherlode vein, and like Ferril – and before him, Walt Whitman, the father of the concept – Justice Hobbs writes a lot of what might be called “public poetry.”
But we live in a private age – or an age of privatization, if you will – where the cultural ideal seems to be for each and every soul to build his own little castle and live therein, free from the rest of the world (except for “screened” connections via an emerging electronic soul).
Thus, we also have privatized poetry — to go along with everything else that’s privatized — which offers personal reflections on personal moments meant to be read rather than recited, in the quiet privacy of one’s favorite chair at home. And Justice Hobbs (like Ferril) has written a lot of private poetry, too.
There are many moments in Colorado, Mother of Rivers that you would only want to share with one special person at a time, probably on the banks of a stream during moments like this one, “From The Gap.”
Dissassembled a rod is useless,
but grooved and fitted snug
it’s that part of an arm
that connects a man
with higher beings.
A lot of the private poetry, in fact, seems to come to Hobbs along streams connected with higher beings. Here’s another one, from ” A Fox in Elder Berry Rain.”
I used to count them
best on hook, remove
and fry, then I thought
to put them back, then
to leave them be
And think of streams
they like to dart within,
But “public poetry” takes on a greater challenge than just touching us in our private souls. In public poetry the poet tries to locate and address what might be called — in Justice Hobbs’ context here — the river that runs through us all.
Walt Whitman tried to define this genre in the preface to Leaves of Grass: “The Americans of all nations at any time upon the earth have probably the fullest poetical nature,” he began. “The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem.” He went on to observe that “of all nations the United States with veins full of poetical stuff most need poets and will doubtless have the greatest and use them the greatest… Of them a bard is to be commensurate with a people.” Whitman went on in that vein: a heady but heavy charge to a subset of writers who were no doubt mostly made up of insecure introverts.
But Justice Hobbs takes on the challenge. In much of his poetry, he is trying to make us see ourselves as:
…the Great Divide community (which)
Stands astride the backbone of the continent,
gathering, draining, reflecting, sending forth
a flow so powerful it seeps rhythmically
As befits a justice, much of Hobbs’ poetry is powerfully moral, but not in the narrow, pious and punitive way of those who think that they have co-opted morality today. Instead, Hobbs’ poetry reflects a heart as large as our mountains.
On the one hand, we have the strange, dark national struggle which is currently going on – of angry partisanship and the finaglings of party ideology. On the other hand we have a State Supreme Court Justice who sometimes emails out poems during breaks from the duties of his office. And that poetry gives me hope that such spirit can inspire our national affairs – maybe with the high American, and consummately Christian, morality of the “Rain Dance.”
It’s easier to argue with one you love
but the argument runs the risk
of greater heat,
too much intelligence of the other
fuels the fire.
How long since each has cleared the underbrush?
They say the meadow needs a sun-cut
opening the canopy doesn’t permit,
though without a sheltering enclosure the fawn
cannot test her wheels.
Always when I’m angry
I feel lavas melt,
rediscover discomposure’s crack,
embarrassed – blessedly – by my ability
to throw flaming words in spurts
At everything I cultivate.
“Please forgive me”
is the only substance
of any significance
to a Rain Dance.
Or with the democratic generosity expressed in a “Different Tune”:
I’d like to empty my jar
of every anthem I know
and carry that jar
thirsting for a tune
as far as I may
No water I carry
when my jar is full
or when I pour it out
if it does not sing
but rains only fire
I would fill my jar
hearing of distant waters
healing a cup at a time
held in every hand
of every person singing
With those sentiments inspiring our courtrooms (and legislative chambers, too), perhaps we might eventually release that “poetical nature” that would finally make “the United States … the greatest poem.”