[Human Wishes] raises disturbing questions about what can be said to constitute a poem today. I am not referring to the fact that the first two of its four sections are written in prose. In fact the opening sequence of prose poems is by far the best part of the book. The prose here is elaborate and compacted in such a way that we are left in no doubt that we are reading poetry, but, despite some good moments, the pieces in the second section obstinately refuse to catch fire. Inconsequential anecdotes (a visit to the doctor, an upper-middle-class dinner party, remarks the neighbors made) are recorded in prose that is unremarkable when not actually clichéd. Hass seems to have fallen victim to confused intentions and weakly sentimental failings.
Hass has made the common mistake of assuming that the details of middle-class, intellectual domesticity are innately interesting. This is writing that is confined by class, writing that routinely signals "sadness," "love" and "loss" in . . . characterless language. . .