Robert Hass

Robert Hass was born on March 1, 1941 in San Francisco, California.  He grew up and attended Marin Catholic High School in Marin County suburb of San Rafael, California and graduated in 1958.  He started writing poetry as a teenager in the 1950s. Hass attended St. Mary's College in Moraga, California and graduated with his Bachelor of Arts in 1963.  During this time, Hass was influenced by the San Francisco Bay area poetry scene, including poets Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg. "I started out imagining myself as a novelist or essayist, but then Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg came along and poetry, imbued with the whole lifestyle of the Beats, was much more exciting." Hass also became interested in haiku and other East Asian literary techniques, which were experiencing a resurgence of popularity at the time. The interest has been lasting: Hass has edited several anthologies of haiku and has translated works by Basho and Kobayashi Issa, among many other East Asian poets.

In an interview with the Writing University students, Hass explained how he got started writing poetry:  “I started writing from reading.  I think most writers do, something you read is electric to you and then you go from reading to writing.  When I was a small child, I listened to radio series and they were exciting to me.  By the time I was an older kid, I was trying to write my own … you just love something then you start trying to do it.”

Teaching and Writing in Iowa City

Hass has been to Iowa City and has taught during four different semesters at the University of Iowa Writer’s Workshop.  In a conversation with the Writing University, Hass said: “One of the excitements of Iowa [Writer’s Workshop] is teaching so many talented – teaching isn’t the right word – being in workshops and seminars, that are really just conversations about literature with so many bright and gifted young writers … that was really an opportunity…I just fell in love with Iowa City.  I just like almost everything about it.  I like that you can walk everywhere.  It’s such a civilized and friendly place … So what’s not to like?” 

While Hass was in Iowa City, he and his wife, poet Brenda Hillman, the couple rented a house for the semester.  He lived in four different places, including Forest Glen Road, then in a house on Davenport Street close to the Hamburg Inn, another house near Hancher Auditorium, and finally a house that was rented from Dean Young across from Oakland Cemetery.

Of local independent bookstore Prairie Lights, Hass claims it is “One of the greatest book stores in America.” He has read his poetry many times there throughout the years (find links to these readings below). During one such reading, he described his affinity for Iowa City: "I was walking around today trying to figure out why I love this place [Iowa City] so much. And I thought well it's possibly partly because I didn't have any really bad periods in writing or [in] a relationship here." He mentioned New Pioneer Co-op in downtown Iowa City, where he would go every morning for the “best coffee in town."  The most recent time he traveled to Iowa City was in May 2010 when he received an honorary degree from the University of Iowa.  He also mentioned that one of his favorite things to do in Iowa was explore the countryside.

Hass wrote “Iowa City: Early April” while he and Hillman were living in a house in Iowa City on Forest Glen Road and was inspired by the nearby woods. Hass explains how the poem came about in an interview with the Writing University. “I remember the first [house] was on Forest Glen, in back of the Mayflower, it looked out on a woods.  There’s a poem about that woods … [It ended up being about] an experience of [going] throughout that winter and spring watching those woods come alive.”

University of Berkeley and Other Projects

University of California, Berekely theater student Elijah Guo, performed a stage version of Hass’ collection Time and Materials as his seniors honors thesis in March and April of 2011.  In an interview with the Berkeley Theater and Dance department, Guo says that Hass work "made a big impression on me when I was in high school." When Writing University students spoke with Guo in an interview, Guo commented that Robert Hass came to see the performance: “One of the things Professor Hass told me…was that he said the show helped him realize things about the poems that he had not known before.”   Mr. Hass commented about the performance:  “I did [enjoy it], I was really surprised… I did think it was very interesting.”

Hass has influenced other young writers all over the world.  Iowa has been the place where Hass has lived the longest other than California.  Over the years, Hass has spent time teaching all over the world, including: New York Buffalo, St. Mary’s, University of California Berkeley, University of Iowa, Columbia University, University of Virginia, University of Berlin, and a year in England.

Hass has been the recipient of several awards, including the Yale Series of Younger Poets for Field Guide,  The William Carlos Williams award for Praise, a MacArthur Fellowship, and the Pulitzer Prize for Time and Materials.From 1995 – 1997 Robert Hass served as the United States Poet Laureate.  Hass is currently teaching at the University of California, Berkeley.


Archived readings by Robert Hass:

Robert Hass, Live from Prairie Lights, May 14, 2010

Dean Young and Robert Hass reading, The University of Iowa, 2002

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