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Robert Haas collaborating with Poetry Flash and Tonu Shane Eagleton

Award: $20,000 Literary Arts Grant awarded in December 1995

Premiered: April 6, 1996

Poet Robert Hass collaborated with sculptor Tonu Shane Eagleton and Poetry Flash to create “24 Bars for a River Mural,” a poem and a tactile sculpture. Eagleton carved Hass’s poem alongside river images–birds, reptiles, and fish–on storm salvaged wood from a huge redwood tree that came down in the Northern California winter storms of 1995-96.

As United States Poet Laureate, Robert Hass led the initiative, “Watershed:  Writers, Nature and Community,” highlighting connections between bioregionalism and the literary imagination.  The poem-sculpture and related events drew attention to the tradition of nature writing in the West. When the sculpture was shown, the public was invited to make crayon rubbings of their favorite phrases and images onto tree-free Kenaf paper.

The Hass-Eagleton piece has been featured at many literary and environmental gatherings–as a centerpiece for National Poetry Month; and at Berkeley Earth Day,  the East Bay Wildcat Creek Watershed Festival, the Confluence Festival of the American Rivers,  and the national “Bioregionalism and the Poetic Imagination,” organized by Hass in Washington, D.C. The Coastal Conservancy featured it in a 1996 issue of Coast and Ocean.

Robert Hass’s poems contain many references to the flora and fauna of the San Francisco Bay Area.  A native Californian, he was the first Westerner to be chosen for the post of United States Poet Laureate–serving two terms (1995-97). He was awarded the 2008 National Book Award and shared the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for poetryTonu Shane Eagleton is widely known for his wood carvings. He has found, through international travels, that using the ancient media of carving and rubbings enabled him to reach out to and connect with people of different languages and traditions.

Founded in 1972, Poetry Flash is a free calendar, news, and review publication and a forum for public engagement with contemporary writers and writing.  In addition to producing the project and coordinating the artists’ work, Poetry Flash staff organized ancillary public engagement activities, including the Watershed Poetry Festival at which the work was unveiled, and which has continued.  A special issue of The Flash was dedicated to the project’s theme.