If not from spotting him around Old Town, you may recognize Bob Hager from his Oct. 26, 2017, Journal cover story "Homeless Survival Guide." Hager is a veteran and he and his late wife, Kathleen, had been homeless off and on for decades and were evicted after a long-term stay at the Budget Inn in Eureka ("The Last Days of the Budget Motel," Sept. 29, 2016). Shortly after, he shared his history and an excerpt from his self-published book about living rough. Recently, Hagar released Brave and True, a self-published anthology of his poetry.
Brave and True is a small, saddle-stitched booklet into which Hager squeezes 63 poems. The poems, like their binding, are simple but they provide meaningful commentary and a much-needed voice to the inner lives of homeless people.
Do not expect Hager's writing to evoke pity or sorrow. Instead, his poetry revolves around themes of renewal and hope. Hager relies heavily on nature and on images of changing seasons to convey his surprisingly positive and matter-of-fact outlook. Poems like "Unfurled" and "No Greater Gift" celebrate the beauty of the natural world. "'Tis the Day" best sums up what reads as Hager's unshakable faith as he writes, "The street before me glistens with dew,/trying so hard to make old to new." At the same time, Hager emphasizes the irreverence of nature and the smallness of humankind.
His work also does not shy away from a political call to action, urging his readers to be more proactive in community building. Though his poems are transparent in their rejection of materialism, Hager's acceptance — embrace, even — of pain, death and poverty is powerful, evoking the "bravery" he alludes to in the title of the anthology. His work is also a tribute to the love he shared with his wife, who passed away in 2017.
While fulfilling basic human needs like eating, showering and sleeping often trump creative desire, it is important to remember the words of poet Audre Lorde: "poetry is not a luxury." Like Hager's guide to surviving homelessness, his poetry is also about and perhaps a means of survival. "The Ink in my pen./like the blood in my veins,/ these poems do I write./that all may see,/ what makes my world so bright."
Brave and True's lack of pretentiousness is refreshing. I can't think of a better way to support local authors and grassroots writing than investing $5 in Hager's work.
Robert Hager's Brave and True is available at Because Coffee (300 F. St., Eureka).