In celebration of National Poetry Month, Goodreads asked Robert Hass to pick some poetry books. Hass is a self-described "omnivore as a reader of poetry." He recommends books by "voices I really do return to and wouldn't want to live without."
Robert Hass was the U.S. Poet Laureate (1995-1997) was awarded the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for Time and Materials, a collection of poetry that ranges in subject from the Iraq War to the natural landscape of Hass's native California. His new collection, The Apple Trees at Olema, experiments with elegy and narrative.
Here are his recommendations.
The Complete Poetry and Selected Prose of John Donne (Modern Library). "Donne—the tone of his voice in the love poems—was one of the first voices in poetry that felt entirely alive to me and burned its way into my head. For depth, richness, intensity, human complexity, subtlety of thought, wit, surprise, he is inexhaustible."
The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford Paperback). "Hopkins may be the most purely gorgeous poet in the language. It's a small body of work, and he really has only three tones: an excited happiness, and tenderness, and despair. But I never take his poems from the shelf without being wakened up by them."
"I just edited a selection of the poems Song of Myself and Other Poems by Walt Whitman published by Counterpoint Press. But any edition of Leaves of Grass will do. I go to Whitman for life and invention in language and the depth of his feeling for the sheer abundance and variety of life. He got more of his world into his poems, I think, than any poet since Shakespeare."
"Readers have to choose between The Complete Poems, edited by Thomas Johnson—that's the book I grew up on—and The Poems of Emily Dickinson, edited recently by R.W. Franklin, who took a fresh look at Emily Dickinson's manuscripts and made some revisions in the order of the poems and in the poems themselves. There is also a lovely Shambala Dickinson designed for the pocket and edited by my wife, Brenda Hillman, which is perfect for carrying around. For depth, for wit, for purity and strangeness of imagination, for the soul's dark hours, for its daily brightnesses, Dickinson has very few peers. I've been a little slow to see just how amazing she is. Reading her, thinking you know all the best poems, you keep finding new and surprising things."
George Oppen's The New Collected Poems (New Directions). "I could have made four or five lists of 20th century poets—five French poets, five Polish poets, five American modernists, five Latin American poets, etc. But one poet—with the criteria that (1) I wouldn't want to live without a volume of the poems at hand, and (2) that I take that book down from the shelf often to remind myself of a scent that matters to me in poetry. Oppen published one small book in the early '30s, set writing aside to do political work, served in the infantry in France in the Second World War, came back, and after 25 years, took up the work of poetry again. His idiom is spare, he means to say what he knows, as simply as possible, and the simpler the poems the more mysterious they are. For clear water, a scrupulousness of mind, I turn to Oppen."