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April 23, 1996

Librarian of Congress Appoints Poet Laureate Robert Hass To Second Term as Poet Laureate

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington has announced the reappointment of Robert Hass to be the Library's Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. His second term will begin in October, when he will open the Library's annual literary series with a reading from his work.

In his first term at the Library, Mr. Hass brought to Washington audiences many poets from Western states to read in the literary series, including Ishmael Reed, David Mura, and Carl Rakosi. He also brought together, in a weeklong series of events titled "Watershed: Writers, Nature, and Community," a large group of notable nature writers, among them Gary Snyder, Terry Tempest Williams, Wendell Berry, and William Kittredge, to participate in dialogues and panel discussions, and to give readings in the week leading up to Earth Day.

Mr. Hass also initiated a regular column in The Washington Post Book World, "Poet's Choice," in which he introduces and discusses a poem a week. Among the poets represented in his column so far are voices as diverse as William Carlos Williams, Linda Pastan, Robert Frost, Seamus Heaney, Constantin Cavafy, Ellen Bryant Voigt, and Pablo Neruda. "Poet's Choice" will continue through Mr. Hass's second term.

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 that 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.

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 Dove brought a program of poetry and jazz to the Library's literary series, along with a reading by young Crow Indian poets and, last 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 service are listed below:

Joseph Auslander 1937-41  
Allen Tate 1943-44  
Robert Penn Warren 1944-45  
Louise Bogan 1945-46  
Karl Shapiro 1946-47  
Robert Lowell 1947-48  
Leonie Adams 1948-49  
Elizabeth Bishop 1949-50  
Conrad Aiken 1950-52 First to serve two terms
William Carlos Williams   Appointed in 1952 but did not serve
Randall Jarrell 1956-58  
Robert Frost 1958-59  
Richard Eberhart 1959-61  
Louis Untermeyer 1961-63  
Howard Nemerov 1963-64  
Reed Whittemore 1964-65  
Stephen Spender 1965-66  
James Dickey 1966-68  
William Jay Smith 1968-70  
William Stafford 1970-71  
Josephine Jacobsen 1971-73  
Daniel Hoffman 1973-74  
Stanley Kunitz 1974-76  
Robert Hayden 1976-78  
William Meredith 1978-80  
Maxine Kumin 1981-82  
Anthony Hecht 1982-84  
Robert Fitzgerald 1984-85 Appointed and served in a health-limited capacity, but did not come to LC
Reed Whittemore 1984-85 Interim Consultant in Poetry
Gwendolyn Brooks 1985-86  
Robert Penn Warren 1986-87 First to be designated Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry
Richard Wilbur 1987-88  
Howard Nemerov 1988-90  
Mark Strand 1990-91  
Joseph Brodsky 1991-92  
Mona Van Duyn 1992-93  
Rita Dove 1993-95  
Robert Hass 1995-97  

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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PR 96-63
4/12/96
ISSN 0731-3527

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