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Robert Hahn

Robert Hahn writes poems for grown-ups. Perhaps this is because he has waited-whether deliberately or by chance-to publish his first book until his sixth decade. Ripeness is all; gestation requires patience. All Clear, in the new James Dickey series edited by Richard Howard and published by the University of South Carolina Press, reproduces a myriad of things visible to mortal sight. Hahn looks diligently and with concentrated intelligence at nature and at art. He then goes on to contemplate all the relations between what we see and what we do not. Beneath a tone of Apollonian coolness abides a spring of rich Dionysian passion. But Hahn controls his passions literally by enclosing them in various stanzaic forms, by reining in his enthusiasms, and by making us aware of the ardors of "looking." Observation comes to mean both notice and participation. Like James Merrill, Hahn proves that a life dedicated to art, or an art informed by what simple-minded populists often deride as pretentious "high" culture, can attain relevance as well as grandeur. His poems, always elegant but never merely so, possess good humor, energy, and a thrilling commitment to almost everything in the world except the poet's own inner psyche. Hahn, mercifully, does without confession, egomania, surrealism, and the cannibalizing of friends and family. Even when he is anecdotal, a reader is aware of the organizing form that lifts the details of ordinary life into an artistic plot. Hahn knows what form can do, and what he can do with it. Where younger poets may cut their teeth on sonnets, villanelles, and so forth, Hahn has the audacity to include two brilliant sestinas that attest, above or beneath their charming refinements, to metaphysical questions and to the pathos of dying. Hahn has laid claim to wit and sobriety, those two staples of the Horatian temperament, as his stock in trade. All Clear comes upon calm after the thunderstorms of youth, and takes us into the clearing (of landscape, of vision) that only age and intelligence can make or appreciate. Adult readers have something to cheer about and be grateful for: Robert Hahn has given us wisdom without decrepitude.

-Willard Spiegelman

Shelburne Farms Coachyard, Swallows, Schubert

Wittgenstein Eats

Heaven on Earth

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