The Apple Trees at Olema includes work from Robert Hass's first five books&mdash:Field Guide, Praise, Human Wishes, Sun Under Wood, and Time and Materials—as well as a substantial gathering of new poems, including a suite of elegies, a series of poems in the form of notebook musings on the nature of storytelling, a suite of summer lyrics, and two experiments in pure narrative that meditate on personal relations in a violent world and read like small, luminous novellas.
From the beginning, his poems have seemed entirely his own: a complex hybrid of the lyric line, with an unwavering fidelity to human and nonhuman nature, and formal variety and surprise, and a syntax capable of thinking through difficult things in ways that are both perfectly ordinary and really unusual. Over the years, he has added to these qualities a range and a formal restlessness that seem to come from a skeptical turn of mind, an acute sense of the artifice of the poem and of the complexity of the world of lived experience that a poem tries to apprehend.
Hass's work is grounded in the beauty of the physical world. His familiar landscapes—San Francisco, the northern California coast, the Sierra high country—are vividly alive in his work. His themes include art, the natural world, desire, family life, the life between lovers, the violence of history, and the power and inherent limitations of language. He is a poet who is trying to say, as fully as he can, what it is like to be alive in his place and time. His style—formed in part by American modernism, in part by his long apprenticeship as a translator of the Japanese haiku masters and Czeslaw Milosz—combines intimacy of address, a quick intelligence, a virtuosic skill with long sentences, intense sensual vividness, and a light touch. It has made him immensely readable and his work widely admired.
At the outsetand, I suspect at the core even stillRobert Hass is a poet of praise: praise for the beauty of the natural world, for the long unfolding of our human story. ("Praise" was even the title of one of Hass's early collections.) But he is a modern man, engaged with the philosophical, aesthetic and political turmoil of our times. The Apple Trees at Olema offers new poems and a generous sampling of five published collections, and his achievement is often nothing less than splendid.