I read some of the columns by U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass that make up this book when they were first published in the Washington Post. As a collection, this “notebook of a poet’s readings,” as Hass describes it, makes a wonderful bedside book. I would read one or two entries before turning off the light and fall asleep thinking about what I’d just read.
Hass is a thoughtful guide, posing questions and pointing out details to pay attention to. A particularly strong aspect of his selections is the wide range of different types of poems represented. Hass includes classics like Robert Frost’s haunting “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” Paul Laurence Dunbar’s powerful “Sympathy,” and Matsuo Basho’s haikus. You’ll also find wonderful poems by more contemporary poets such as Denise Levertov, Hayden Carruth, and Michael Ondaatje. You never know what you’ll encounter next. It’s a surprising voyage of discovery, and there’s a lot to treasure if you keep an open mind.
Haas wrote that he aspired to help “give us back what we are losing–a shared, literate public culture.” I think this is a great model to follow, and makes a gem of a book.