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Now and Then : The Poet's Choice Columns, 1997-2000
During his tenure as US Poet Laureate, Robert Hass revived the popular nineteenth-century tradition of including poetry in our daily newspapers. ""Poet's Choice"" ultimately became a nationally syndicated column appearing in dozens of papers across the country. Every week, Hass would marry poets and poetry to headlines and holidays. Proceeding in sequence from early 1997 to the start of the millennium, we ride the rhythms of Hass's remarkable musings. From the living legends to the long-gone, Hass resurrects voices of many who might otherwise remain neglected. Nearly a hundred poets are profiled - William Butler Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Rita Dove, Robert Frost, Sonia Sanchez, Donald Justice, Margaret Atwood, John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich, Michael Ondaatje, and Louis Gluck all make appearances here. And along with classic works, we're introduced to a host of emerging poets and to translations of such luminaries as Yehuda Amichai, Czeslaw Milosz, and Jaime Sabines. With his assured yet unimposing words, Hass awakens our understanding of the great canon of poetry. In his introduction, Hass observes how the columns collected here seem to encapsulate a time and world quite different from the one that developed after 9/11. And so this collection serves as both remembrance and reminder of a period in our history, and as a celebration of the poets whose poems transcend time.
In 1997, former poet laureate Hass inaugurated the now famous Poet's Choice column in the Washington Post Book World, in which he chose a poem and accompanied it with explanation or context. The goal was to make poetry more accessible to the general reader. Now all of Hass's columns are collected chronologically in a single volume. In the early columns, Hass keeps his statements short, offering mostly background for the week's poem, from standbys like Whitman and Frost, as well as favorites like Plath (about whose troubled biography he says, "I felt like I was summarizing a soap opera"), as well as poets who were unknown then and are perhaps still too little known now, like D.A. Powell (whose work "reads like a handheld camera") and Susan Wheeler. Later, longer columns range across time and space, rounding up everything from experimental writer Fanny Howe to the Serbian epic The Battle of Kossovo. Experienced poetry readers won't find surprises in Hass's good-humored, if sometimes slightly coddling, comments, but this book doubles as an unlikely anthology of poems that are easy to enjoy, and it makes a handy guide for those new to poetry and eager to experience its breadth. (Apr.)
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August 31, 2008
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