Synopses & Reviews
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.
"In this erudite and engaging collection of more than 30 essays, poet and UC-Berkeley professor Hass (Time and Materials) covers topics as eclectic as the lives of great writers; art's relationship to violence; spirituality; the landscape photography of California; the underappreciated canon of black nature writing; and the experience of teaching poetry. 'The essay as a form is an act of attention,' Hass writes in the introduction, and his attentions are wide-ranging; each overstuffed piece is an opportunity for meandering digression and fruitful association. Hass's passionate admiration for his fellow men and women of letters including Jack London, Maxine Hong Kingston, Czeslaw Milosz, Allen Ginsberg, and Cormac McCarthy animates his prose. The best essays transcend their subject matter, becoming works of literature in their own right. These meditations, such as 'Robert Adams and Los Angeles,' which reflects on the photographer's vision of California, and 'An Oak Grove,' a requiem for the felled trees of the Berkeley campus, fuse the poet's love of language with the scholar's interest in context, demonstrating the truth of Hass's own claim that 'the deepest response to a work of art is, in fact, another work of art.'" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Universally lauded poet Robert Hass offers a stunning, wide-ranging collection of essays on art, imagination, and the natural world—with accompanying photos throughout.
What Light Can Do is a magnificent companion piece to the former U.S. Poet Laureates Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning poetry collection, Time and Materials, as well as his earlier book of essays, the NBCC Award-winner Twentieth Century Pleasures. Haas brilliantly discourses on many of his favorite topics—on writers ranging from Jack London to Wallace Stevens to Allen Ginsberg to Cormac McCarthy; on California; and on the art of photography in several memorable pieces—in What Light Can Do, a remarkable literary treasure that might best be described as “luminous.”
About the Author
Robert Hass was born in San Francisco. His books of poetry include The Apple Trees at Olema (Ecco, 2010), Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Time and Materials (Ecco, 2008), Sun Under Wood (Ecco, 1996), Human Wishes (1989), Praise (1979), and Field Guide (1973), which was selected by Stanley Kunitz for the Yale Younger Poets Series. Hass also co-translated several volumes of poetry with Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz and authored or edited several other volumes of translation, including Nobel Laureate Tomas Tranströmer's Selected Poems (2012) and The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa (1994). His essay collection Twentieth Century Pleasures: Prose on Poetry (1984) received the National Book Critics Circle Award. Hass served as Poet Laureate of the United States from 1995 to 1997 and as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in California with his wife, poet Brenda Hillman, and teaches at the University of California, Berkeley.