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."