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Sun Under Wood Paperback – March 1, 1998

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Sun Under Wood + Praise + Human Wishes (American Poetry Series)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 96 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco (March 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0880015578
  • ISBN-13: 978-0880015578
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 5.9 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 4.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #238,411 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

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,
navigable sorrow.
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 WoodHass 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.

More About the Author

Robert Hass was born in San Francisco in 1941. He attended St. Mary's College and Stanford University. His books of poetry include Time and Materials, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 and the National Book Award in 2008; Sun Under Wood, for which he received the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1996; Human Wishes; Praise, for which he received the William Carlos Williams Award in 1979; and Field Guide, which was selected by Stanley Kunitz for the Yale Younger Poets Series. Hass also worked with Czeslaw Milosz to translate a dozen volumes of Milosz's poetry, including the book-length Treatise on Poetry and, most recently, A Second Space. His translations of the Japanese haiku masters have been collected in The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa. His books of essays include Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 1984, and Now and Then: The Poet's Choice Columns, 1997-2000. From 1995 to 1997 he served as poet laureate of the United States. He lives in northern California with his wife, the poet Brenda Hillman, and teaches English at the University of California at Berkeley.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Tuor on January 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
In this book, Robert Hass treads close along the confessional risk line but never quite seems to slip over it. This avoidance is tricky, given the highly personal material in most poems here. (I'd define the CRL as the point at which a poet fails to generate sympathy in the reader when discussing what is posed as personal pain - truly autobiographical or not.) He manages not to trip up by the masterful use of several strategies:

1. Distraction: when approaching the kernel of pain in a poem, he mouths around it, noting with palpable wonder the beauty and strangeness of the natural world before returning to the kernel for another little gnaw. Eventually acceptance - not so much resolution, which is hard to find in this book - is the reward of rationed philosophical nibbling. In poem after poem, Nature is a necessary source of healing distraction, and occasionally so are the imagined lives of other people. What's implicit is a deep sense of trust in the process of healing, which requires time and attention, but not necessarily to the pain.

2. Fluidity: structural as well as tonal. Distracting himself and the reader when things start to sting could very well make for clunky, ungenerous verse, but his casual tone (which rarely if ever asks for pity, instead lingering over what excites his curiosity) somehow brings us along willingly. Even when the interruptions are overt ("Interrupted Meditation", "Regalia for a Black Hat Dancer"), he doesn't derail. Perhaps this is because the reader has been coaxed into accepting Hass's constant shuttle between private musing and scrupulous description by

3. Beautiful, accurate language: Hass has a fine eye, and a fine ear to match.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By E. A Solinas HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on October 9, 2004
Format: Paperback
Robert Hass's fourth book of poetry, "Sun Under Wood," shows where he's travelled from since 1979's "Praise." In this book, he's sedate and contemplative, looking at nature and relationships with the air of a man who has mellowed with time. Beautiful and sensitive, this lacks the passion of "Praise," but has a mellow charm of its own.

Hass ponders his childhood, and the childhood of the US: visions of the Franciscan priests coming to California, and bringing illness with them -- "They meant so well, she said, and such a terrible thing/came here with their love..." He looks back on his mother, on his father's death, and his bond with his brother in college. Not to mention "Sonnet," as a man listens lovingly to his ex-wife's voice.

But don't think that Hass only contemplates family. He also fixes his eye on nature -- weather, plants, animals, mountains, and the almost magical web that surrounds them in his writing. Even when writing a gritty piece on an airstrip, "Layover," he pauses to describe the "snowy mountains," "moose feeding along the frozen streams/snow foxes hunting ptarmigans..." His infatuation with nature peaks in the exquisite "Woods in New Jersey," and the dreamlike "Iowa City: Early April."

Good poets are remembered, while mediocre ones are usually forgotten quickly. Robert Hass is one of the former. His descriptions of love, loss and nature are striking and beautiful, and in that "Sun Under Wood" is not a change. It's an evolution -- rather than the fire and passion of his earlier works, this is a quieter, meditative collection.

The peak of his writing in "Sun Under Wood" is "English: An Ode," an apparent tribute to the power of words.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By JHR on May 12, 2006
Format: Paperback
The review from 'a reader' is a common tragedy. Hass, like any maturing master has found his happiness in acceptance. There is no resignation or distance in the work, it is deeply intimate and passionate. However, it is decidedly lacking in the immature rebellion against human reality. That rebellion relies on dualistic constructions: good experience vs. bad experience, good vs. evil, etc. Nature, of which humanity IS, can provide all the examples for finding our place in our world, no matter the pleasure or displeasure of our daily experiences. "nature stuff"--the very expression is absurd, its flavor indicative of the disconnection humankind lives with by choice.

This book is simply wonderful, cover to cover. Hass creates a long ignored need for peaceful contemplation of the common ignorance of the richness of life we move too quickly past, discard and unconsciously dismiss as unimportant.

Amazing imagery, flowing rhythm, new and precise 'witnessing' of nature and nature's meaning along with human sorrow. It gets uncomfortable, the way great poetry should, and yet Hass resolves the 'disenchantment' is very beautiful ways.

Highly recommended.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By not a poet on January 30, 2005
Format: Paperback
Hass doesn't cross "The Confessional Risk Line" as Tuor puts it because he's a great writer. Lesser writers tell us how they feel. Great writers show us how we feel. More personal opinion: As I read Sun Under Wood, I had to set it down every few minutes to jot down notes for other projects because it's one of those books that set the gears in your head all spinning away toward different ends. A good thing when you need to write.

Lyrical, fluid, spot-on. A small prize.

"A Reader" says this is "More nature stuff," and I always get bristly when I hear that. "More nature stuff" sounds a bit reductive and condescending, don't you think? "A Reader" goes on to say that Hass "seems more resigned than before as to what life brings and is not fighting for happiness." Well. I don't think that writing a book of poems qualifies as resignation.

"I had the idea that the world's so full of pain / it must sometimes make a kind of singing. / And that the sequence helps, as much as order helps-- / First an ego, and then pain, and then the singing."
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