Oct 31 10 by Published in: Interviews No comments yet

For Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Robert Hass, the natural world is a wellspring of inspiration, filled with reverence and fraught with longing.

Rooted in his native Northern California surroundings, his work explores the intimate landscape of place, finding the universal in the familiar, the uncommon in the common.

“I think we do grow souls in particular landscapes,” he says from his Bay Area home. “I’ve always cared about the natural world; it’s kind of a gift to me.”

That grounding has informed not only his writing but his literary and environmental activism as well.

“To be an American is to be in mourning for the landscapes of your childhood,” he says.

He channels his creative energy not only in pointing out the effect of human behavior on the environment, but also by infusing a sense of responsibility for this planet in all of his work.

In his poem “The State of the Planet” he writes: “Poetry ought to be able to comprehend the earth … something of the earth beyond our human dramas.”

Yet those human dramas are also fodder for his writing, as he casts a keen naturalist’s eye on everyday wonders and political foibles, expressed in clear, compassionate lines that reflect his love of language.

As U.S. poet laureate (1995-1997), Hass founded the nonprofit River of Words organization to help young people express their observations of the natural world in art and poetry.

As an advocate for deeply knowing a place, he uses this organization to challenge children to expand their knowledge and take care of wild places that surround them.

His literacy efforts take him into the schools, where he is a generous reader of young peoples’ work, even if it’s personally frightening.

“Talking to schoolchildren is often the scariest thing I do,” admits the venerable poet.

“I was recently in a kindergarten class reading a poem, and the children thought it was sharing time. I would read a line, and then a little boy would raise his hand and say, ‘I have new shoes.’ I would read the next line, and a little girl would raise her hand and say, ‘Today’s my birthday.’ ”

On Nov. 3, he’ll talk with Fulton Elementary School and Reynolds Middle School students, many whom participated in his River of Words program under the guidance of former Lancaster County poet laureate and Fulton teacher Barbara Strasko.

A prolific poet, essayist, columnist and translator, Hass’ most recent work includes “The Apple Trees at Olema: New and Selected Poems” (2010) and ”Time and Materials’’ (2007), which earned him both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. His books of essays include “Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry,” which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism in 1984.

He has translated a dozen volumes of Nobel Prize-winning Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz. His translations of Japanese haiku masters have been collected in “The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa.’

He served as chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2001-2007.  He lives in northern California with his wife, poet Brenda Hillman, and teaches English at the University of California, Berkeley.

Hass will deliver Franklin & Marshall College’s annual Hausman Lecture at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 2, at the Barshinger Center on College Avenue. The event is free to the public. Those looking for more insights may participate in a 4:30 p.m. craft talk and question-and-answer session with him at F&M’s Philadelphia Alumni Writers House.


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