Celebrating 20 years of poetry with former Poet Laureate Robert Hass

Photo Courtesy of palmbeachpoetryfestival.org ||  Robert Hass gave a reading to a packed Weinstein last week. 

Photo Courtesy of palmbeachpoetryfestival.org || Robert Hass gave a reading to a packed Weinstein last week. 

Patience Kayira ‘20
Assistant Arts Editor

On paper, Robert Hass writes about nature to aid in self-discovery. In person, Hass is an artist with a crinkle-of-the-page reading style that conjures an image of a friendly grandfather telling a story. 

Last Friday, Pulitzer Prize winning poet Hass performed a poetry reading in Weinstein Auditorium. The reading celebrated the Poetry Center’s 20th Anniversary. 

Hass’s words brought a full crowd, among them members of the Board of Trustees, students, professors and community members. Those who attended received a taste of Hass’s minimalistic style and sensitivity to global issues. 

The reading began in a formal atmosphere with an address from President Kathleen McCartney. President McCartney prefaced her opening lines by saying, “Poetry at Smith is a communal event.” 

McCartney is certainly correct. For the past 19 years, the Poetry Center, under the direction of Ellen Doré Watson, has invited roughly 53,000 poets including Gwendolyn Brooks, Mary Oliver, Seamus Heaney and so on. 

In addition, the Center also attracts students with its internships and Poetry Concentration. Hass’s visit shows just one way the Smith community at large benefits from the Poetry Center. 

 Hass is a renowned American poet. The former National Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997, Hass continues to have a prolific career in poetry. 

The 2014 recipient of the Wallace Stevens Award from Academy of American poets, Hass’s work is lauded by many. The New Yorker writer Don Chiasson wrote, “Hass’s wish to make poems resemble the world as closely as possible (his often remarked stylistic “clarity”) has been a constant in his method from the start; what has changed is not the style but the vision of the world.”

In addition to his literary work, Hass also cofounded a non-profit, Rivers of Words, that provides ecoliteracy for young children. 

After a graceful introduction from Rebecca Foust ’79, Hass began his reading with an interactive poem. Challenging the evening’s mood of formality, Hass engaged the audience with a series of tongue twisters. 

In odd unison, attendees chuckled as they attempted to recite, “The six sheep sheets stick.” Hass stood at the podium, in all-black attire, shifting his gaze across the audience to encourage participation. With a quirky start, the reading became personal and entertaining.