Archive for January 16th, 2020

Robert Hass’s new poems: “part haiku, part road trip” – and a chance to meet him in Berkeley next Wednesday, Jan. 22!

Thursday, January 16th, 2020
Share

Keep your eye on him–you’ll get a chance on Wednesday

Robert Hass has a new collection out, a rare cause for celebration (his last was in 2010). “Hass personalizes everything, warms everything up. He’s an open book; but he’s also someone whom readers should, in every sense of the phrase, keep their eye on,” writes Dan Chiasson in “Robert Hass’s Inner History of the Decade,” in the current issue of The New Yorker

He writes:

Hass’s work is a fifty-year standoff between concentration and dispersal: part haiku, part road trip. Hass, who served as the U.S. Poet Laureate in the nineties, and for decades has taught English at the University of California, Berkeley, has published his volumes rather slowly, beginning in 1973. When his new poems turn up, they often embed, almost as an alibi, behind-the-scenes footage of how and where they were written, including outtakes and bloopers. They are shapes made in time, over time, like the mellow hikes and meandering conversations that they sometimes describe. Summer Snow, with its patient count of tanagers, warblers, aspens, and gentian, its year-after-year audit of the dead, its tallies of everything from our country’s drone strikes to his friends’ strokes, is Hass’s inner history of the decade. It arrives right on time.

“Nature Notes in the Morning,” an early poem in “Summer Snow,” distills Hass’s method: first, some short, almost neutral captions (“East sides of the trees / Are limned with light”), followed by jotted ideas and judgments (“Just distribution theory: / Light”), along with memories and associations (“What do I know from yesterday?”). The effort is precise, not random, like a chef adjusting his seasonings. The word “notes” has a double meaning, and, as often happens in a Hass poem, a tune starts to form out of scattered impressions. To render “the way light looked on plums,” Hass tells us, the eighteenth-century Japanese artist Itō Jakuchū “smuggled Prussian blues from Europe.” The poem starts to conflate its own colors with the names of painters’ dyes (“Last streaks of sunset: alizarin”) and crests with an anecdote about “the old art historian” who told Hass to pick up a brush and paint “small rectangular daubs so that they shimmer”—or else to “shut up about Cézanne.” Accuracy in painting, which may depend on whether your country has an embargo on the source of the perfect blue, seems to chasten Hass’s comparatively too easy art.

Read the rest of the article here.

Now here’s a cool thing: You have a chance to meet and talk with the poet himself, should you happen to be, by chance or design, in Berkeley next Wednesday for a lunchtime talk at Heyday Books. The talk begins at noon, and, like all Heyday talks, takes place at 1808 San Pablo Avenue in Berkeley. The catch: you must RSVP by Monday, Jan. 20 – drop a note to:  “emmerich (at) heydaybooks (dot) com.”  Tell him I sent you. (Bonus prize: you get to meet my humble self! I wouldn’t miss it for the world.)