Hass, Robert (Vol. 99)
Robert Hass United States Poet Laureate
Born in 1941, Hass is an American poet, essayist, editor, and translator.
For further information on his life and career, see CLC, Volumes 18 and 39.
A respected American poet, Hass has served two terms as U.S. Poet Laureate. Following the example of former Laureate Rita Dove, Hass took the opportunity afforded by the position to play an active role in American literary affairs. Hass pursued his goal of raising awareness of the importance of literacy with a countrywide speaking tour and a number of events at the Library of Congress.
Much critical attention has been focused on Hass from the beginning of his career. Upon the publication of his first poetry collection, Field Guide (1973), which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award, Hass was identified as an important new poet. In explaining his approach to writing poetry, Hass has remarked, "Poetry is a way of living … a human activity like baking bread or playing basketball." Critics quickly recognized the influence of all aspects of life, both mundane and extraordinary, in Hass's work, and lauded the conciseness, imagery, and clarity of expression in his poems. Hass's reputation broadened with the release of Twentieth Century Pleasures (1984), a collection of previously published essays and reviews which earned him the National Book Critics Circle award in criticism. Many reviewers remarked that the insight into poetry-writing Hass demonstrated in this work was both informed by and further illuminated his own poetry. Hass expanded in yet another direction with The Essential Haiku, translations of representative works by the most famous masters of haiku, a form of short poetry that has been influential in his own poetry writing. "Hass has noted his own affinity for Japanese haiku," Forrest Gander has remarked, "and his work similarly attends to the details of quotidian life with remarkable clarity."Hass was nominated to the post of United States Poet Laureate in 1995 and 1996, and served both terms. "My first reaction was reluctance," Hass told David Streitfield. "It's a great honor and it seemed like a massive distraction. But it was also an opportunity to be a spokesperson for the literary community." Following his predecessor Rita Dove's example as an active, high-profile Laureate, Hass chose to use his position to raise awareness of literacy issues among community and civic groups across the country, going "where poets don't go." "I thought the thing to talk about is not poetic 'uplift,'" he told interviewer Francis X. Clines, "but the fact that basic literacy in this country is in a serious crisis." On the road most of the time, Hass found that, ironically, his duties as Poet Laureate interfered with his poetry writing, an uncomfortable situation made more so by the experimental nature of his project. As he neared the end of his second term, he remarked to Clines, "Did it do any good? Was I wasting my life? Should I have been home writing poems? It's like teaching. You have no idea."
Field Guide (poetry) 1973
Praise (poetry) 1979
Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry (essays) 1984
Human Wishes (poetry) 1989
The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa [editor and translator] (verse) 1994
Sun under Wood (poetry) 1996
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SOURCE: "Praise," in Poetry, Vol. CXLV, No. 6, March, 1985, pp. 345-48.
[In the following review, Hirsch discusses the essays and reviews collected in Hass's Twentieth Century Pleasures, considering what they reveal about Hass and his work.]
Recently, I wrote a memorial speech for a close friend who had died of cancer. Reading the piece aloud, I discovered that I could deliver it with a modicum of calmness when I was speaking in generalities, but that I wavered whenever specific images of him were summoned up: my friend giving me a high five at a basketball game, or carrying a steaming cup of coffee across campus in the early evening. These images were so clear and palpable that I could feel him in front of me again. "Images haunt," Robert Hass tells us in Twentieth Century Pleasures. They are also, by their very nature, phenomenal, standing for nothing else but themselves, reaching down into the well of being and affirming, this is. It is a permanently startling fact that language can give us back parts of our own world, full-bodied. "Images are powers," Hass also writes, emphasizing that they are metonymic glimpses, fundamental acts of imagination, moments of pure being. The image is the primary pigment of the lyric poet and in its purest form it is the enemy of time, of discourse, of all narratives that seek to surround and distill it. No wonder that an image could cut the fabric...
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SOURCE: "Criticism in the First Person," in The New York Times Book Review, March 3, 1985, p. 37.
[In the following review, Libby remarks favorably on Twentieth Century Pleasures.]
Twentieth-century pleasure is not precisely what we expect from a book of criticism, which often has a distinctly 19th-century quality and offers secondary pleasures at best. But as the California poet Robert Hass recounts and analyzes his complex joy in poets from Basho to Rilke to James Wright [in Twentieth Century Pleasures], he creates a very special pleasure of his own. This results partly from the almost fictional tendencies of his criticism. As Mr. Hass tends to locate poets in their times and places, so he locates his reading for us, giving up the illusion of objectivity to place the reading in his life. In a piece about Robert Lowell, Mr. Hass complains about the difficulty of judging the value of poetry "when it's gotten into the blood. It becomes autobiography then." So his criticism contains many snatches of autobiography, for instance as he introduces a study of the poetry and politics of Czeslaw Milosz with a memory of participating in a 1966 antinapalm demonstration or when he begins a piece on prosody with a quick, funny glance at dirty saloon repartee. Conversely, he writes only one overtly autobiographical piece for this collection, and it is mostly about poetry.
Mr. Hass's complexity...
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SOURCE: "Arguing in Unknown Quantities," in The Times Literary Supplement, No. 4276, March 15, 1985, pp. 293-94.
[In the following excerpt, Davis commends Hass for a collection that demonstrates his desire "to serve poetry—not appropriate it or crow over it or show off at its expense."]
We enter a different world, and one I think most readers of poetry would much rather live in, when we open Robert Hass's Twentieth Century Pleasures; his first sentence, "It's probably a hopeless matter, writing about favourite poems", establishes the tone—colloquial, welcoming, inviting complicity; and if you don't have favourite poems read no further. Hass is a poet himself and it shows; his love for poetry, his intimate awareness of how it is made and the kinds of effects it is capable of, are obvious on almost every page. This [book] … constantly sent me back with fresh understanding to poems I thought I knew, and in search of poems I had not known before.
The writing is relaxed, almost belletrist, certainly free of jargon: there are some brilliantly illuminating passages—the comparison of a James Wright poem with Truffaut's L'Enfant Sauvage, for example, and the scansion of a poem by Snyder. It may be that the writing will prove too personal for some readers (we learn a great deal about Hass's children in the course of the book), but the personal moments are often the most...
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SOURCE: "Reading Old Friends," in Southern Review, Vol. 22, No. 2, Spring, 1986, pp. 391-406.
[In the following excerpt, Matthias, who is a personal acquaintance of Hass's, presents a thorough analysis of Twentieth Century Pleasures.]
Robert Hass begins one of the pieces in 20th Century Pleasures by saying that he has been "worrying the bone of this essay for days" because he wants to say some things against the poems he has agreed to discuss in a special issue of a journal celebrating the work of James Wright. I have been worrying the bone of this essay for days as well, but not because I want to say anything against the work I intend to discuss. I have decided to write in an autobiographical way [in this issue of the Southern Review and in the next] about three books … which are themselves autobiographical in different respects and which are, as it happens, all by old friends. I thought at first that it would be a very simple business to give a strictly personal and subjective account of these books. There would be no need to feign anything like a critical disinterest; it was specifically agreed that I should write about the work of friends from the perspective of a friend. But this is not an easy task. The chief reason why it isn't is that years ago all these books began for me as conversations or as an exchange of stories growing out of conversations—long talks with Hass first at...
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SOURCE: "Necessities of Life and Death," in The New York Times Book Review, November 12, 1989, p. 63.
[In the following excerpt, Kizer praises Hass's Human Wishes.]
Robert Hass is so intelligent that to read his poetry or prose, or to hear him speak, gives one an almost visceral pleasure. He is the master of what I call the reticule poem. A reticule is a capacious bag carried by some of our grandmothers, which might contain knitting, cough drops, gloves, a tin of cookies, a volume of Wordsworth or Jane Austen or a missal, coin purse, shopping list, makeup and a folder of family snapshots. In short, necessities of life. One can say that all these articles go together because they are together, in one bag. But it is Mr. Hass's associative processes, his associated sounds and his strategies that enhance, combine and weave together these elements to give his poems their rich and singular flavor.
when Luke was four or five
he would go out … still in his dandelion
yellow pajamas on May mornings
and lie down on the first warm stone
Later, on street corners,
you can hardly see the children, chirping
and shivering, each shrill voice climbing over
the next in an ascending chorus "Wait, you guys,"
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SOURCE: A review of Human Wishes, in Boston Review, Vol. XIV, No. 6, December, 1989, pp. 28-9.
[In the following review, Barber compares Human Wishes to Hass's earlier work.]
While not quite as rare as a lunar eclipse, a new book of poems by Robert Hass isn't likely to escape notice. In his first two collections, Field Guide (1973) and Praise (1979), Hass helped ignite a running dialogue between the possibilities of the lyric and the demands of the intellect. And the intellect, in his case, seemed to have won out. Over the past decade Hass's prominence has owed less to his distinctively crafted poems than to his determined undertakings as a critic (Twentieth Century Pleasures, a volume of gracefully erudite essays, won the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 1984) and translator (most notably, by way of his working partnership with Berkeley neighbor Czeslaw Milosz).
At an age by which many of his contemporaries are starting to cobble together their selected poems, Hass's restrained literary enterprise has had about it an air of almost monkish detachment. Naturally, then, one is tempted to regard the conspicuous hiatus between collections as the product of either painstaking ambitions or painful reservations. Human Wishes, as it turns out, provides ample evidence on both sides.
"I think I must have thought / the...
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SOURCE: "A Student of Desire," in Nation, Vol. 249, No. 20, December 11, 1989, pp. 722-23.
[Bogen is an author and educator. In the following review, he remarks favorably on Human Wishes.]
What's immediately striking in Robert Hass's work is the sheer abundance of pleasures. Who else among our poets would bring together the delights of landscape, climate and food in a salad "with chunks of cooked chicken in a creamy basil mayonnaise a shade lighter than the Coast Range in August" ("Vintage") or include a recipe for onion soup—complete with shredded Samsoe and advice on how to eat it with friends—as a "Song to Survive the Summer"? In his incisive collection of essays, Twentieth Century Pleasures, Hass set our engagement with poetry squarely in the context of other forms of satisfaction—in domestic life, in nature, in the senses. The title of his new book of poetry, Human Wishes, reveals his basic concerns: He is a student of desire, of what we want and how likely we are to get it.
If one pleasure of poetry is the evocation of beautiful things, Hass's work definitely satisfies. From his first book, Field Guide, which won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award in 1973, through Praise in 1979 and now Human Wishes, he has shown a mastery of sensory description, combining the light touch of a calligrapher with the specificity of a botanist....
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SOURCE: "Going Metric," in Book World—The Washington Post, December 31, 1989, p. 6.
[In the following excerpt, Ash offers a negative appraisal of the poems in Human Wishes, with the exception of "Natural Theology."]
[Human Wishes] raises disturbing questions about what can be said to constitute a poem today. I am not referring to the fact that the first two of its four sections are written in prose. In fact the opening sequence of prose poems is by far the best part of the book. The prose here is elaborate and compacted in such a way that we are left in no doubt that we are reading poetry, but, despite some good moments, the pieces in the second section obstinately refuse to catch fire. Inconsequential anecdotes (a visit to the doctor, an upper-middle-class dinner party, remarks the neighbors made) are recorded in prose that is unremarkable when not actually clichéd. Hass seems to have fallen victim to confused intentions and weakly sentimental failings.
Sentimentality is often taken as evidence that the writer's heart is in the right place, that he is just too close to his material. But Wallace Stevens's stern definition of sentimentality as "a failure of feeling" is the correct one. This failure also infects the verse that follows in parts three and four. When Hass remarks of "the famous night / we first made love" that "I think I remember / stars, that the moon was...
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SOURCE: A review of Human Wishes, in World Literature Today, Vol. 64, No. 2, Spring, 1990, p. 313.
[In the following review, Aldan praises Hass's imagery in Human Wishes.]
The delicacy and sensibility of Robert Hass, as exemplified in his new volume of poetry, Human Wishes, is a distinct joy to experience in this time when so many published works deal with violence, aberration, and alienation. His elegant gleanings of essence, often impressionist in tone, make us aware once again that beauty and meaningful silence still exist; that the day's events, as they progress into weeks, months, seasons in the cycle of life, are timeless and universal. What is required is that one remain attentive. Hass has done so, and has used his skill to record, and to remind us.
The collection is divided into four parts, through which various themes weave in flowing rhythm and resonance of imagery, among them the theme of progression, of metamorphosis. In mingling the sublime with the "everyday," as Mallarmé called it, the inner life is revealed, and we are grateful to acknowledge that this does not occur computerlike. Careful selection of details and image placement here lead not to naturalism but to art, to the true poem. Thus Hass succeeds in achieving what Mallarmé attempted: to depict "non la chose, mais l'effet qu'elle produit." Hass's poems, however, are not the convoluted, complex,...
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SOURCE: "An Abundance of Lack: The Fullness of Desire in the Poetry of Robert Hass," in Kenyon Review, Vol. XII, No. 4, Fall, 1990, pp. 46-53.
[In the following essay, Bond centers on Hass's manipulation of language as he discusses themes of desire, loss, and redemption in Hass's poetry and prose.]
The word "clarity" is often unclear. If by "clear" we mean "under the clarifying light of reason," placed with quieting control in a world promoted as stable, without contradiction, then Robert Hass's poetry is repeatedly unclear. But if by "clear" we mean "lit by an immanent light," creating a persuasive model of consciousness in all its disjunctions, wonder and loss, paradox and uncertainty, then Hass's poetry has a clarity which puts its language under immense pressure. Through Hass's clarifying lens, we see words as gestures of longing rather than vestiges of truth, as motivated by a sense of their own failure, a sense of lack that no discourse can finally fill. As though always on the threshold of saying what it cannot, Hass's language is both haunted and invigorated by an "immense subterranean" absence, an absence which we imagine nevertheless as a kind of presence, a "counter-pressure" akin to a displaced unconscious. If his view toward language as both the product and producer of desire, as driven by a sense of lack at the core of its being, appears strikingly Lacanian, it may come as small surprise...
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SOURCE: "The Poet of the People," in Washington Post, May 8, 1995, p. D1.
[In the following article, announcing Hass's appointment to the position of U.S. Poet Laureate, Streitfield describes the duties of the post and anticipates how Hass will follow the work of his predecessor, Rita Dove.]
The nation's next official cheerleader for all things verse will be Robert Hass, a 53-year-old Berkeley professor, translator, critic and poet. The eighth person to hold the post of poet laureate, Hass responded with the by-now-traditional trepidation when approached by Library of Congress officials.
"My first reaction was reluctance," Hass admitted by phone from the University of Iowa, where he is teaching in the Writers' Workshop this semester.
"It's a great honor and it seemed like a massive distraction," he said. "But it was also an opportunity to be a spokesperson for the literary community."
As for his duties? "I cannot even say I know what my task is." He'll spend from now until October, when he officially starts at the library, figuring it out.
Rita Dove, the outgoing laureate, has some basic advice for Hass: Don't get overwhelmed. Early in her two-year stint, she was twice hospitalized from exhaustion. "I got kind of used to writing in the front of ambulances," the 42-year-old Dove said lightly during an interview last week at her office...
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SOURCE: "Robert Hass Is Named Poet Laureate," in The New York Times, May 8, 1995, pp. C11, C15.
[In the following article, Grimes announces Hass's appointment as Poet Laureate and comments on Hass's career.]
Robert Hass has been named the poet laureate of the United States by James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress. Mr. Hass, the author of the poetry collections Field Guide, Praise and Human Wishes, succeeds Rita Dove, whose second one-year term as poet laureate ends this month.
"It's a daunting honor," said Mr. Hass (whose name rhymes with grass), in a telephone interview from the University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he is teaching at the Iowa Writers Workshop for the spring semester. "On the one hand, I'm quite pleased, and on the other I'm fearful of the distraction. I think Joseph Brodsky said that the job is ill-paid, ill-defined and irresistible." Mr. Brodsky was the poet laureate in 1991.
The post of poet laureate was created in 1937 to provide the Librarian of Congress with advice on the library's poetry collection, but in recent years it has come to be regarded as a platform for raising national awareness of the importance of poetry and the written word. Laureates receive a salary of $35,000. By design, their duties are loosely defined except for the requirement that they give a reading of their work at the Library of Congress upon...
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SOURCE: "New Laureate Wields Bully Pen for Poetry," in The Christian Science Monitor, Vol. 87, No. 222, October 12, 1995, pp. 1, 16.
[In the following essay, Shillinger presents a profile of Hass on the occasion of his appointment as Poet Laureate.]
Perhaps everyone is at the football game nearby. At any rate, the cafe is unhurried. Robert Hass bites a sandwich, crunching its wedges of green-skinned apple. He pauses, then recalls the heroes of his youth, none of whom wore cleats.
"One thing about growing up in the Bay Area in the 1950s was the Beat thing in San Francisco," he says. "There were poets around. It seemed like something you could be."
Today's youths may feel differently. In a culture where heroes are increasingly defined by their shoe contracts, poetry may seem out of place, a quaint art from the days before MTV.
Mr. Hass, who today becomes the nation's eighth poet laureate, hopes to change that perception. He wants to make his art more accessible—via everything from poets in schools to more verse in newspapers.
An English professor at the University of California at Berkeley, Hass is considered a skillful translator of classical haiku and, more recently, the poetry of Czeslaw Milosz. As a poet, his influences range from Beat to bebop to Bob Dylan.
He has long found art in the distractions of the...
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SOURCE: "The Legacy of Poet Laureates," in The Christian Science Monitor, Vol. 87, No. 222, October 12, 1995, p. 17.
[In the following essay, Shillinger describes the Poet Laureate position.]
To call Robert Hass the eighth poet laureate of the United States is somewhat misleading. The office has existed in one form or another since 1937. Prior to 1986, when Robert Penn Warren returned to the office after 40 years and first accepted its current title, his predecessors were known more blandly as "consultants in poetry."
The poet laureate is a spokesperson for his or her craft, a custodian of poetry in American culture. The job is fairly and deliberately unstructured. The office, which is privately funded, requires the holder to act as a consultant to the Library of Congress, advising the institution in regard to the forces and trends in American literature.
Each year, the laureate helps select new poets to read in the Library's series and to be added to the archives of artists reading their own work.
Beyond that, the officeholder is free to pursue special projects—limited, of course, by the funds he or she can raise.
Rita Dove, the outgoing laureate, conducted a special symposium entitled "The Black Diaspora" and a reading by Crow Indian poets. Allen Tate, consultant from 1943 to 1944, edited an anthology of American poetry of the...
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SOURCE: "Something Ode, Something New," in Washington Post, October 14, 1995, p. D1.
[In the following essay, Weeks recounts Hass's first public reading as U.S. Poet Laureate.]
When the tall man in the black suit stood to introduce Robert Hass, the new poet laureate of the United States, the tall man said, "Welcome to another year of poetry at the Library of Congress."
In the back of the room someone whispered, "This reading's going to last longer than I thought."
But in truth, Hass's first public appearance in Washington revealed a witty, provocative, to-the-point guy whose conversation is poetic and whose poetry is conversational.
More than 250 people—lots of bearded, ponytailed men, and women in black sweaters—gathered in the mundane Montpelier Room on the sixth floor of the library's James Madison Memorial Building Thursday night to hear Hass read for 1 1/2 hours.
Some of the poems were written by Hass, others by two poets Hass has translated—the Japanese haiku master Basho and Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz, who has written of poetry as an expedition "as necessary as love."
Dressed in a dark shirt, dark coat and dark tie, Hass stood behind a blond-wood lectern flanked by towering Yamaha speakers, and in a thin, lilting voice led the audience through an expedition of longing and lust, of nature and shame....
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SOURCE: A review of Sun under Wood, in Booklist, September 15, 1996, p. 205.
[In the following review, Seaman describes Hass's focus on "the most ordinary aspects of life."]
Poet laureate Hass is continuing the effort of his predecessors, Rita Dove and Joseph Brodsky, to bring poetry back into the realm of everyday life by writing a weekly column for the Washington Post and sponsoring many programs and projects. A true democrat, Hass values education, the power of language, and the most ordinary aspects of life: the warmth of the sun, the call of a bird, love and even its loss, and all the oddities of consciousness. Hass' firm grounding in life is expressed in his unusually anecdotal, conversational, and stylistically prosy poetry. He weaves in dialogue, comments on his activities during the writing of a poem, and even offers variations on two poems in the form of "Notes," but make no mistake, each and every word counts as it must in poetry, and Hass' perceptions into the nature of emotions are at once as fine as gossamer and as resilient as vines. He is a giving, honest, sensual, moody, and plainspoken poet, a tireless bard who sings of our sorrows and joys, our perversities and strengths.
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SOURCE: A review of Sun under Wood, in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 243, No. 40, September 30, 1996, p. 82.
[In the following review, the critic praises Hass's "quirky, imaginative incarnaitons of grace."]
Hass is Poet Laureate of the United States, a position through which he has worked to enlarge the cultural presence of poetry. Much the same ends are served in his new collection, which contains a remarkable range of themes and styles, all of them generous-hearted and friendly of access. Although Hass's work can be positioned somewhere between the rural lyricism of William Stafford and the precise, Zen-like economies of Gary Snyder, he seems, most of all, a California poet. There is a distinctive ease and optimism in his poetic attentions, and his voice is as comfortable musing about ethnicity as it is detailing marital peccadilloes or extolling the allure of "my mother's nipples." In this, his first volume since 1989's Human Wishes, Hass shows that he can write a perfect sonnet ("Sonnet"), but seems to revel more in an idiosyncratic free-form of blank verse broken by sharp apercus. Hass is careful not to allow his poems to be reducible or predictable. Most remarkable in this collection is "Faint Music," in which the poet attempts "a poem about grace," and then wanders through a meditation on self-love, an anecdote about a failed suicide, an infidelity and porch sounds at night. In the end,...
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SOURCE: A review of Sun under Wood, in Library Journal, Vol. 121, No. 16, October 1, 1996, p. 82.
[In the following review, Muratori describes Sun under Wood as "a disarming, disturbing, memorable book of poems."]
Like Robert Frost, Gary Snyder, and the haiku masters before them, current U.S. Poet Laureate Hass (The Essential Haiku, Ecco, 1995) discerns in nature's random blossomings and processes a "beauty unconscious of itself," all the more attractive for its autonomy. Combining an almost Zen tranquility of expression with a naturalist's eye ("Creekstones practicing the mild yoga of becoming smooth."), Hass seems engaged in "an activity of incessant discovery" whether he's meditating on a surprised raccoon, the circumstances surrounding a divorce, or a parent's debilitating alcoholism. "It is good sometimes," he writes coyly, "that poetry should disenchant us," an ironic observation given his special—and subversive—talent for disenchanting the reader at the moment of deepest enchantment, knowing that "We live half our lives / in fantasy, and words." Though he often strives for a lyricist's concision, Hass will let his poems wash widely into prose ("My Mother's Nipples") if necessary, as if the urgency of his thought refuses containment. For the fourth time, he has given us a disarming, disturbing, memorable book of poems. Recommended for all collections.
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SOURCE: "Robert Hass: Bard on the National Stage," in Publishers Weekly, Vol. 243, No. 44, October 28, 1996, pp. 51-2.
[In the following essay, drawn from an interview with Hass during his second year as Poet Laureate, Coffey relates the author's views on the current state of poetry in the United States.]
As Poet Laureate of the United States, Robert Hass's mandate is to raise national awareness of the importance of poetry and the written word. Such a task, at a time when most households have 70 TV channels and many others are plugged into the global village prophesied 30 years ago by McLuhan, surely is daunting. But being the frontman for a quaint art that barely has a profession tied to it—unless it's called teaching—does not faze Hass. Rather, it is a task to which he has taken naturally. In fact, there may not be a better poet today working with such catholic tastes, boundless energy and open aesthetics as Hass.
Perhaps this sense of openness is grounded in Hass's California roots. Born in San Francisco of German and Irish stock, he grew up mingling with kids of myriad backgrounds and then found himself in his impressionable teens living in the suburb of San Rafael, reading Kerouac and watching the rise of the Beat movement nearby. Having attended graduate school at Stanford in the heady 1960s, Hass emerged with a sensibility that is pan-poetic and insatiably curious, at once as...
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SOURCE: "A Poet's Road Trip along Main Street, U.S.A.," in The New York Times, December 9, 1996, pp. A1, B8.
[In the following article, Clines relates Hass's observations on his two years in the post of U.S. Poet Laureate and its impact on his poetry writing.]
Sometimes he hits upon a lyrical scrap of haiku amid the hum of the crosstown subway. But essentially the Poet Laureate of the United States has put aside consulting his muse in favor of proselytizing Rotarians.
"I thought an interesting thing to do would be to go where poets don't go," explained Robert Hass, heading into his final four months in one of the odder capital jobs, one that he has shaped to become more like a missionary drummer in the provinces of commerce than as a performing bard in celebrity coffeehouses.
"I thought the thing to talk about is not poetic 'uplift,'" he said, "but the fact that basic literacy in this country is in a serious crisis."
With that, Mr. Hass, a celebrated 55-year-old poet and critic, offered a vivid scholarly synopsis of the decline of American literacy as he paid a rare visit to his office at the Library of Congress. He celebrated the "heroic" literacy levels of a century ago, when there was a national hunger to read and general literacy was at 95 percent. He deplored the bleak evidence of current life that finds half the eighth graders in Texas reading...
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Ford, Mark. "Reality Bites." The New Republic (31 October 1994): 48-51.
Reviews Hass's Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa.
Perry, Tony. "Poetry Man." Los Angeles Times (20 October 1996): E1.
Personal profile of Hass.
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