Hass is almost 80 and I am entering middle age; I’ve got two kids, have had my brushes with fortune and misfortune, am deeply angry and dismayed about the state of America, and I find that Hass’s poems move at exactly the speed I need and make a hell of a lot of sense. He writes poetry for grown-ups, and, alas, I have become one ... a book that looks meaningfully back on the long life it took to write it ... It’s a big book, but never feels exhaustive or overstuffed. Some may find that Hass has grown too comfy in his effusive style and his old lefty politics but to me it all sounds like mastery, like singular virtuosity attained on a very popular instrument — common American speech ... Summer Snow is rife with elegies. It’s something of a Who’s Who of great writers who have died in recent decades ... The unthinking cruelty of fate is too vast and unfathomable to summarize or explain, so Hass just sits with it with us, aghast, stumped and sad, but also unwilling to leave us behind or be left alone with all that weight ... Yes, life is a breath, and what kills us is never actually what kills us, and the fabric of our days dissolves, leaving only paltry lists of achievements ... Of course I had no idea what Hass was talking about when I was 20, no idea that he had anything to offer me. But he does now, and when I return to this book in 20 years, or in 40 if I’m so lucky, it will still be waiting for me, with something new to say.
Hass’s work is a fifty-year standoff between concentration and dispersal: part haiku, part road trip ... Summer Snow, with its patient count of tanagers, warblers, aspens, and gentian, its year-after-year audit of the dead, its tallies of everything from our country’s drone strikes to his friends’ strokes, is Hass’s inner history of the decade. It arrives right on time ... A Hass poem is a site of instruction, sometimes handed down from Hass’s own masters, like Eugenio Montale, Czesław Miłosz, and Stanley Kunitz. But it’s equally a site of distraction. Hass’s poems about his mentors are full of background, ambience, human overspill; the nugget of inherited wisdom is almost always ironized by circumstance ... This is the core feature of Hass’s work, in my view: an Etch A Sketch method that allows the surface of the completed poem to be erased and revised, with traces of previous attempts, along with gaps for when the lightning strikes. By my unscientific count, these gestures have only become more plentiful in the course of Hass’s career ... When I teach Hass, I always ask my students what they think of these fill-in-the-blanks passages. The response is a mixed bag; people have different histories with performed modesty. I love these moments and have learned from them how to do certain things in my own poems, but I’m also watchful, a little distrustful of that extended open hand.
Summer Snow... continues his lifelong exploration of the fiat of desire; the brutal beauty of the natural world; and song as a gnosis as profound as history or philosophy ... It is as if, having proven his mastery of the meditative lyric and its variations, Hass now wants to escape the constraints of the elegant structures he has helped to codify ... Yet the most memorable poems in the book still reside in Hass’s bailiwick: the lyric mode, in its various moods ... Poems...showcase his dexterity with vernacular, an imagistic discipline borrowed from haiku, and an instinct for the flint of narrative. Hass is also a master of the prose poem ... Hass’s forays into new territory and looser narrative structures are not always successful. When he strays too far from embodied experience, the poems fall flat ... Luckily, we have not needed Hass to be a desert prophet or proselytizer. As the Orpheus figure of his generation, one that struggled to know itself and justify its pleasures, he has had other work to do—naming desires that would otherwise remain inchoate and bewildering.
... quick, precise observations captured in short lines ... That willingness to engage in ideas—always founded in the precise observation that is the fundamental place of Hass’s aesthetic—allows him to write easily about philosophy, history, and politics ... As Robert Hass approaches his ninth decade, he is comfortable in the wisdom and craft he has learned over a long and active life in his art. But his perceptions remain young and fresh and are as vibrant as any poet’s working today.
Hass’s first collection of poems in a decade offers another feast for those who believe that each successive publication since his 1973 debut, Field Guide, has confirmed Hass’s early promise as one of the most talented and important voices of his generation ... while Hass’s earlier lyrics tended to be tightly focused and formally distilled, his style in Summer Snow moves toward a leisurely, if exacting, amplitude ... Hass’s unhurried meditations show a moral as well as aesthetic force: his willingness to linger on details prevents the reader from ignoring the horror on the other side of the ghetto wall ... a powerful cumulative effect ... Hass invites readers to share in his process of meaning-making, in which poetry is part of a natural continuum of seeing and hearing and naming, rather than a separate realm ... In showing the process of imaginative meaning-making, and by delighting in the sensual and democratic powers of seeing and saying, Summer Snow succeeds in communicating poetry as a pleasure.
... rich and substantial ... the length and breadth of the book suggest careful, years-long work ... Aware of the heaviness of death, Hass’s verse does not lean towards weariness or despair; to the contrary, it bursts with energy and striking detail ... With an amalgamation of styles and subjects, the entire collection itself can be described as a long, hefty notebook in the best of ways. Summer Snow seems to unfold organically with much original thought and meditative consideration of the poetic art from one of its masters, a poetry he envisions as 'sheet lightning in a summer field.' Readers will want to return to it again and again.
Hass' new collection—his first in a decade—brings with it the notebook vibe of a poet reaching the middle of his seniority, though traces of the likable Boy Wonder persona, the floral shirt-wearing hiker, Basho-quoting, California-dreaming quester is always, you feel, looking over the shoulder of the veteran ... some of the best poems have the slab look of un-stanzaed poems (like much of Jack Gilbert), they are in fact, nimble and conversational. Even so, the book opens under an elegiac cloud, which, while eventually dissipating, becomes the sustaining hue for the whole ... The imagination doesn't have to take sides, and this fact poses a problem. At bottom you feel a moral basis underlying many of the poems, but its authority is always tenuous, its mutual sharing subject to many contingencies ... Of course he's serious at all points, but he's too intelligent to let the poems succumb to the tedium of gravity their subjects might otherwise find themselves entitled to ... There is much to admire in Summer Snow. I am tempted to say that the appearance of the greats in his poems suggests that Hass has joined their ranks, and why not? Few write with more even grace about his matter, from the insignificant and particular to the important and generalizable. Few are as accessible in his asides, Mobius strip loops and sidebars or even-handed in his worldview ... Neither a wild man crying in the desert, nor a cosmopolitan tap-dancing on the page, Hass has carved a middle way that is as effectual in its power to convince as any contemporary bard or poetry technician. And the work feels complete because he has made his purpose to be both at ease and engaged—or perhaps compact with the contradictions that arise, welts or not, his or others,' with every scratch of the pen.
Summer Snow reminds us, as [Hass] nears 80, of his boundless energy, of the range of his wandering mind, and the subtlety of his methods ... There’s a lot happening in this book, some of it more memorable than the rest ... Can his poems sometimes sound like little more than charming, educated monologues by a favorite professor, with clever titles like The Sixth Sheik’s Sheep’s Sick? Yes. And when political, are his Left Coast opinions sometimes painfully obvious? Yes ... But these hesitations are quibbles. Poem after poem in this rich collection gives us lyrical pleasure and hard-earned human insight.
... there are the poems, half a dozen of them, in which Hass audaciously takes us through a cycle of dying ... I say 'audaciously' because the sequence comes at the start of the collection and also because of the ruthless clarity of the poet’s eye.
Though this proclivity for second-guessing can become, at times, tiring — or, worse, merely performative — Hass’s most-successful poems know exactly when to yield authority and, importantly, when to wrest it back ... Here we find Hass at his best: writing in praise of what surrounds him most immediately ... Moments like this one—in which Hass steps back from the scene and allows it to breathe on its own — are where Summer Snow reaches its highest points ... These instances of delightful discovery make a handful of the poems — perhaps inevitable in a book as long as Summer Snow — frustrating in their absence of immediacy...regrettably, these moments end up as mere ornamentation to a poem whose structure struggles to contain the jotted-down anecdotes, magazine quotations, and statistics it’s been asked to hold ... Like the answers to Summer Snow’s many, disparate questions, local and existential alike — desire remains, at the end of this poem, where it’s always been: receding into 'the distance,' never quite in hand, but never — importantly — entirely out of reach.
Hass’s attention to such details helps anchor many of his otherwise out-there stream-of-consciousness poems, many of which bear an almost conversational tone, one that swerves wildly from one topic to the next, often within the space of a single line. Because of this, much of Summer Snow meanders and tends to get lost within itself, and that makes for tedious reading ... But those familiar with Hass’s style over the last several decades will already be well aware of what they are in for, and will find little reason to quibble when he goes off on florid descriptions of remote, almost anachronistically rustic and quaint European villages, or the haunting mountains and forests of his native California. A handful of esoteric locales serve as starting points for many of Hass’s poetic musings and diaristic recounting of a life lived with a great deal of passion and interest in the world around him ... From a traditional standpoint, Summer Snow will likely come off as somewhat avant garde. But the reality is that Hass’s approach is very much in line with how we in 2020 communicate and share our world with others. It may lack Hass’s more poetic flourishes, vocabulary and (most of the time) coherence, but the majority of us are sharing comparable insights via social media platforms and increasingly text-based interactions. In this, Summer Snow is a fine reflection of our current culture both in tone, topicality and execution.
...covers a rich landscape of human experiences ...It is this intellectual momentum, combined with emotional precision, that is most astonishingly clear in Hass’ new poems ... Ultimately it is the imperfections in our world that Hass so gracefully catches, steadies, and illuminates in this powerful gathering.
In this ruminative, endlessly clever book, Pulitzer Prize–winner Hass...turns his eye toward nature, love, and even drone strikes ... Though death may be the prevailing theme, these poems are far from dirges, as images of his Northern California environs shimmer with life ... Hass experiments with form, vacillating between long and short lines, stanzas and long unbroken blocks of verse. His language is lofty but accessible ... Hass is a rarity, a poet’s poet and a reader’s poet who, with this newest endeavor, bestows a precious gift to his audience.