Robert Hass

Portrait Robert Hass
© Hartwig Klappert

Robert Hass was born in San Francisco in 1941 and studied Literature at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California and at Stanford University, where he completed his doctoral studies in 1971. After intermittently considering a career as a politician or novelist, he decided in favour of poetry, a decision influenced by Beat Poets of the nineteen fifties such as Allen Ginsberg and Gary Snyder. In 1973 his first volume of poetry, »Field Guide«, appeared and was awarded the esteemed Yale Series of Younger Poets Award. The poems are marked by a concern for nature, and describe with sensual, succinct language the Californian landscape as well as the simple moments of life. With these, the thematic field of Hass’s increasingly complex and experimental poetic works was established. For his second volume of poetry, »Praise« (1979), he received the William Carlos Williams Award and his most recent poetry collection, »Sun Under Wood« (1996), was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award.

In 1995 Hass married his second wife Brenda Hillman, a professor and poet who belongs to the group of »language poets«. That same year Hass was named Poet Laureate of the United States by the Library of Congress. He filled this position for two terms as a committed ambassador of culture and especially of poetry. Hass was co-founder of »River of Words«, a non-profit organisation for the diffusion of environmental awareness, as well as editor of »River of Words. Images and Poetry in Praise of Water« (2003), an anthology of works by children and young adults. In 1997 Hass was named »Educator of the Year« by the North American Association on Environmental Education. The following year appeared »Poet’s Choice: Poems for Everyday Life«, a collection of short reviews of poetry, first published in the »Washington Post« as columns by the Poet Laureate.

For his award-winning volume of essays on poetry, »Twentieth Century Pleasures« (1984), Hass received a National Book Critics Circle Award. He is also highly regarded as a translator, among other works of haikus by the Japanese classicists Bashô, Buson and Issa. Additionally he has translated the poems of the Polish Nobel-Prize winner Czesùaw Miùosz who likewise taught at the University of Berkeley, California where Hass currently teaches English Literature with an emphasis on nature and the environment. He is also active as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. The first German translations of Hass’s poems appeared recently under the title of his third volume of poetry, »Die Wünsche der Menschen« (2005; t: Human wishes). The poet lives with his wife and three children in Berkeley.

© international literature festival berlin