Robert Hass's Sun Under Wood
, his fourth poetry collection in 25 years and the winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award, appeared in the middle of his high-profile stint as poet laureate of the United States. Putting into practice the ars poetica
of his Twentieth Century Pleasures
essays, these poems gain altitude through association with each other, especially the clever division of labor between "Layover" and "Notes on 'Layover.'" The concerns of the book expand and contract, offering up such memorable passages as the third stanza of "Our Lady of the Snows":
Though mostly when I think of myself
at that age, I am standing at my older brother's closet
studying the shirts,
convinced that I could be absolutely transformed
by something I could borrow.
And the days churned by,
Aside from sounding an unexpected rhyme, this "navigable sorrow" betrays Hass as a poet of sensibility. What elevates him from preciousness is a powerful need to engage and indulge--to "navigate"--memories of his alcoholic mother and his own painful divorce. Sun Under Wood
, in other words, is the book Robert Lowell would have written had he grown up in California. The raccoon Hass confronts in "Iowa City: Early April" seems to have stepped right out of Lowell's "Skunk Hour," but instead of moaning, "I myself am hell ... nobody's here," Hass muses, "That his experience of his being and mine of his and his of mine were things entirely apart, / ...And as for my experience of myself, it comes and goes, I'm not sure it's any one thing...." Such universal emotions are hard to find words for, but throughout Sun Under Wood
Hass speaks with a clear, disturbing, and urgent voice. --Edward Skoog
From Publishers Weekly
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 to 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, the poet concludes, "the sequence helps, as much as order helps?/ First an ego, and then pain, and then the singing." Such quirky, imaginative incarnations of grace are all we need ask of a poet or a laureate. 20,000, first printing.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.