Contact: Craig D'Ooge (202) 707-9189
May 8, 1995
Librarian of Congress Appoints Robert Hass Poet Laureate
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has announced the appointment of Robert Hass to be the Library's eighth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. He will take up his duties in the fall, opening the Library's annual literary series on Thursday, October 12, with a reading of his work. Mr. Hass succeeds Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, Howard Nemerov, Mark Strand, Joseph Brodsky, Mona Van Duyn, and Rita Dove (whose term ends this month).
Of his appointment, Dr. Billington said, "I am pleased to announce the selection of a first-rate poet from the American West, and a gifted poetic translator, as poet laureate for 1995-96. His poetry explores our connectedness with the natural world and its reverberations in the emotions of our usual lives. Using both art and nature as starting points, he leads us into the depths of everyday existence. He looks to Central Europe in his close collaboration with Czeslaw Milosz and to Japan in his translations of classical haiku. He is a worthy successor to Rita Dove as poet laureate. He will design some programs with the poets and poetry of the West, adding a further dimension to our national outreach. We look forward to welcoming him to the Library in October."
Robert Hass was born in San Francisco in 1941. He received his B.A. degree from St.Mary's College, Moraga, California, and his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Stanford University. His first collection of poetry, Field Guide (1973), won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. His second collection, Praise (1979), took the William Carlos Williams Award. His other works include Twentieth Century Pleasures (1984), a collection of essays which won the National Book Critics Award for criticism in 1985; Human Wishes, a book of poetry and short prose pieces (1989); and The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, and Issa (1994). He has worked with poet Czeslaw Milosz as a translator on many of Mr. Milosz's poems in his Collected Poems and in Mr. Milosz's books Provinces (1993) and Facing the River (1995).
Among Mr. Hass's other awards and honors are a Danforth fellowship (1963-67) and a MacArthur Fellowship (1984-89). He is on the faculty of the University of California at Berkeley and is teaching this spring at the Iowa Writers Workshop.
Stanley Kunitz, in his foreword to Robert Hass's first collection of poems, Field Guide, writes: "Reading a poem by Robert Hass is like stepping into the ocean when the temperature of the water is not much different from that of the air. You scarcely know, until you feel the undertow tug at you, that you have entered into another element. Suddenly the deep is there, with its teeming life."
Robert Hass is a poet of "misery and splendor: "This morning the sun rose over the garden wall and a rare blue sky leaped from east to west. Man is altogether desire, say the Upanishads. Worth anything, a blue sky, says Mr. Akers, the Shelford gardener. Not altogether. In the end...." ("Human Wishes," from Human Wishes, c 1989 by Robert Hass.)
BACKGROUND OF THE LAUREATESHIP
The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties required of the Poet Laureate, in order to afford incumbents maximum freedom to work on their own projects while at the Library. Each brings a new emphasis to the position. Allen Tate (1943-44), for example, served as editor of the Library's now-defunct Quarterly Journal during his tenure and edited the compilation Sixty American Poets, 1896-1944. Some consultants have suggested and chaired literary festivals and conferences; others have spoken in a number of schools and universities and received the public in the Poetry Room.
Maxine Kumin initiated a popular women's series of poetry workshops at the Poetry and Literature Center. Gwendolyn Brooks met with groups of elementary school children to encourage them to write poetry. Howard Nemerov conducted seminars at the Library for high school English classes. Most incumbents have furthered the development of the Library's Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in public places -- supermarkets, hotels, airports, and hospitals. Rita Dovebrought a program of poetry and jazz to the Library's literary series, along with a reading by young Crow Indian poets and, this spring, a two-day conference entitled "Oil on the Waters: The Black Diaspora," featuring panel discussions, readings, and music.
Consultants in Poetry and Poets Laureate Consultants in Poetry and their terms of serviceare listed below:
|Robert Penn Warren||1944-45|
First to serve two terms
|William Carlos Williams||Appointed in 1952
but did not serve
|William Jay Smith||1968-70|
Appointed and served in a health-limited capacity, but did not come to LC
Interim Consultant in Poetry
|Robert Penn Warren||1986-87
First to be designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
|Mona Van Duyn||1992-93|
The poetry and literature reading series at the Library of Congress is the oldest in the Washington area, and among the oldest in the United States. This annual series of public poetry and fiction readings, lectures, symposia, and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s and has been almost exclusively supported since 1951 by a gift from the late Gertrude Clarke Whittall, who wanted to bring the appreciation of good literature to a larger audience. The Poetry and Literature Center administers the series and is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, a position that has existed since 1936, when the late Archer M. Huntington endowed the Chair of Poetry at the Library of Congress. Since then, many of the nation's most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99-194, as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Poet Laureate suggests authors to read in the literary series, plans other special literary events during the reading season, and usually introduces the programs.
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