The poems in Robert Hass's new collection--his first to appear in a decade--are grounded in the beauty and energy of the physical world, and in the bafflement of the present moment in American culture. This work is breathtakingly immediate, stylistically varied, redemptive, and wise. His familiar landscapes are here--San Francisco, the Northern California coast, the Sierra high country--in addition to some of his oft-explored themes: art; the natural world; the nature of desire; the violence of history; the power and limits of language; and, as in his other books, domestic life and the conversation between men and women. New themes emerge as well, perhaps: the essence of memory and of time. The works here look at paintings, at Gerhard Richter as well as Vermeer, and pay tribute to his particular literary masters, friend Czesław Miłosz, the great Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, Horace, Whitman, Stevens, Nietszche, and Lucretius. We are offered glimpses of a surprisingly green and vibrant twenty-first-century Berlin; of the demilitarized zone between the Koreas; of a Bangkok night, a Mexican desert, and an early summer morning in Paris, all brought into a vivid present and with a passionate meditation on what it is and has been to be alive. "It has always been Mr. Hass's aim," the New York Times Book Review wrote, "to get the whole man, head and heart and hands and everything else, into his poetry." Every new volume by Robert Hass is a major event in poetry, and this beautiful collection is no exception.
Can't sustain wonder. We'd never have gotten up
From our knees if we could."
Hass's poetry is my cup of tea. Each poem is like a highly condensed novel; you're either given the exacting detail and your mind left to backfill the plot, or you're given the wide perspective and your imagination can supply the details. It is best read slowly, searching out the special cadence of the individual.
"If the horror of the world were the truth of the world,
he said, there would be no one to say it
and no one to say it to."
"A hint of salt, something like starch, something
Like an attar of grasses or green leaves
On the tongue is the tongue
And the cucumber
Evolving toward each other."
"Because if we can't eat a thing or do something with it,
Human beings get bored by almost everything eventually,
Absolutely, I'd recommend Hass' work to any poetry reader, and to any poet.