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What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World Hardcover – August 14, 2012


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Editorial Reviews

Review

“Drawn to compelling subjects that he makes his own, Hass writes prose every bit as zestful, penetrating, and sure-footed as his poetry. . . This powerful collection affirms Hass’ stature as a philosophically attentive observer, deep thinker, and writer who dazzles and rousts.” (Booklist)

From the Back Cover

An evocative and captivating collection of essays on writers, place, poetry, and photography—with accompanying photos throughout—from Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Robert Hass

Renowned for his magisterial verse, Robert Hass is also a brilliant essayist. the New York Times hailed him as a writer who "is so intelligent that to read his poetry or prose, or to hear him speak, gives one an almost visceral pleasure." Now, with What Light Can Do, Hass's first collection of essays in more than twenty-five years, the lauded author returns to and enlarges the territory of his critically acclaimed and much-loved collection Twentieth Century Pleasures, recipient of the National Book Critics Circle Award.

These acute and deeply engaging essays are as much a portrait of the elegant thought processes of an unconventional and virtuoso mind as they are inquiries into their subjects, which range from meditations on how we see and treat the earth to the relationship between literature and religion, from explorations of the works of writers as diverse as Korean poet Ko Un, Wallace Stevens, Cormac McCarthy, and Anton Chekhov to the ways in which photography—much like an essay—embodies a sustained act of attention.

A perceptive and evocative mixture of memory, philosophical interrogation, and criticism, the essays in What Light Can Do, finely attuned to the pleasures and pains of being human, are always grounded in the beauty of the material world and its details, and in the larger political and social realities we inhabit.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 496 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; First Edition edition (August 14, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061923923
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061923920
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #197,054 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy Garber on October 29, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Robert Hass proves he can apply his mastery of the evocative image in a few words to the wide breadth of human experience. Hass has been one of the Poet Laureates of the United States, a prolific translator of haiku (the good ones), and a stellar poet in his own right (Field Guide was my first introduction to his work). Now he collects his finely crafted essays on everything from Howl to Kant's "Essay on Perpetual Peace" (my personal favorite), from photography to the Epistles of John, from Cormac McCarthy to how to teach poetry. ("The truth is, I am much more interested in poems than in the nature of poetry in more or less the same way that someone might be more interested in eating than the theory of cuisine.") You may not be interested in every essay in the book, but there will be one that will reverberate in your cranium a long time after reading it. Especially recommended for poets, theorists of religion, revolutionaries, artists, and anyone who possesses a soul and a brain simultaneously.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By The Book Witch on January 17, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition
I've always loved the poetry of Robert Hass, (I have his Apple Trees at Olema) though I had never read any of his essays. Now, this is rapidly becoming one of my favourite books - on Kindle - and I'm buying a hard copy to read and re-read and underline and scribble in the margins - it's that kind of book. What he says, and the way he says it, makes it a must-read.

In a week when Sharon Olds won the TS Eliot prize for poetry I re-read an essay sub-titled 'Poor Monkeys and the White Business in the Trees'. It's a thoughtful discussion of autobiographical poetry about families. Hass points out that it was a new subject when Robert Lowell published 'Life Studies' in 1959. 'It is a fact,' Hass observes, 'that [you] can learn nothing about the aunts or the grandmothers of John Donne, Thomas Traherne, Anne Finch, Alexander Pope... John Keats, Emily Dickinson or Robert Browning' from their poetry. He also feels that it may be a particularly American phenomenon. 'American poetry is full of aunts and grandmothers, but French poetry isn't, or Serbian poetry or Arabic or Brazilian or for that matter, English poetry'. Robert Hass takes us through some theories of Why this might be, which I found fascinating.

One of the essays is a deliberation on war - particularly the Iraq war. 'How did this happen?' Hass asks. 'And why are ordinary Americans not being driven crazy by it?' The answer he supplies is 'fear, anger and ignorance'.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Lucia Dick on March 9, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
One of the several resonances of the word 'light' used in the title of this collection is "imagination," its power to transform the world by illuminating the ordinary. In this way, Robert Hass brings together his interests in literature, photography, and the natural world. Anyone interested in American literature, especially its poets and novelists, will find much to like is Hass's probing analyses of writers' relationships to their origins and their importance for their times. (Think Ginsberg, Jack London, Wallace Stevens.) But there's a generous selection of Eastern European authors scrutinized as well. Who would not enjoy reading "Chekhov's anger," for example, or looking into the several essays on the Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz(1911-2004), winner of the 1980 Nobel Prize? For me one of the best sections of the book contains the three essays on photographers of the Western United States: Robert Adams, Robert Buelteman, and Laura McPhee. Hass's concern for nature and the environment surfaces in many places throughout the book. The collection is slanted, however, toward male contribution to the arts it surveys. Women's contributions, by the scarcity of their representation, appear to be undervalued here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Wanda H. Giles on January 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Bob Hass was a friendly, bright, collegial TA in a certain set of years at Stanford University. He has grown to be one of the leading literary writers of our time, and this book collects many examples of why and how this has happened. Good for insight, style, humor, wit, sense of the writer and his time, place, and culture. Brilliant use of language; enjoyable even if only on a stylistic basis, but there is much more.
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By Walt Dunn on October 2, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm already familiar with "Contour in Time"; I just wanted my personal copy. And I love Hass's poems and prose--have for a long time. So I'm happily munching my way through his varied, beautifully-written, wise essays.
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By Richard J. Barron on October 13, 2014
Format: Paperback
What a lucid prose write Robert Hass is! I am still reading the essays.
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