For the knowing reader who can scuff away a few mannerisms, poet Hass' essays--from a variety of literary journals--offer some of the most illuminating and strong contemporary-poetry thinking and writing to be found. True, it's the rare essay--whether about Lowell or rhythm or haiku or Rilke--that does not weave in some large personal anecdote and touchstone: Hass is a Californian, with a sort of residual touchy-feely Sixties nostalgia about politics and the family. His catholicity can come off as hedging, and border on ingratiation: ""I want to say some things against James Wright's poems, which I love."" Yet Hass does say things; very smart things most of the time, out of true feeling. About Wright, for instance: ""When he agrees to disagree with the puritan on his own terms, he gives away will, force, power, weight because they are bad American qualities and he settles for passivity and darkness."" He is adroit and shrewd on the achievements of Creeley and on James McMichaels' underappreciated For Good Things; a long essay on Milosz as a gnostic--and, procedurally, erotic--poet is a gem (though again marred by moony personalisms). In sum: vigorous and sincere work, if sometimes off-putting.