Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Jane Hirshfield

I went up to Butler University in Indianapolis yesterday evening, along with three other members of my poetry group, to hear Jane Hirshfield read. I actually (and this is a bit embarrassing to admit) wasn't very familiar with her work when I first heard about the reading, but since my friends were going I figured what the heck, I'd go along. I checked out Given Sugar, Given Salt from the public library, and was very impressed -- I love how she doesn't shy away from large and/or abstract issues, but always arrives there via the concrete and specific. Though I guess you could say that about any number of poets. She also, in this book, wrestles with some things that feel very specific to middle age -- something I'm wrestling with now in my own work (and my own life).
I, a woman forty-five, beginning to gray at the temples,
putting pages of ruined paper
into a basket, pulling them out again.
[from "Waking This Morning Dreamless After Long Sleep"]
Last night she read exclusively from After, her new book. I enjoyed her reading very much; she spent more time chatting and providing background than many poets do, but I didn't feel she overexplained the poems, and I got a better sense of how she works -- something I always enjoy. I also got the impression that she would be a good teacher, just from how she talked about the poems and about her own writing process. I think my favorite poem was the one she opened with, "Theology," which had dogs in it. (It wasn't just because of the dogs that I liked it.)

After the reading she took a few questions, which she answered graciously. One question was about how to arrange a book of poems, which certainly seems to be a topic that's out there in the poetic zeitgeist these days, on listservs & around the blogosphere. She didn't really say anything I hadn't heard before about this, but it's obviously something she has struggled with and spent a lot of time thinking about.

Although it was a splurge since it's only out in hardcover, I bought a copy of After, and had her sign it like a big ol' fangirl. Hey, if you can't splurge on a hardcover right in front of the poet, when can you, y'know?

I also chatted for a few minutes with a young poet who's in her final semester of the low-res program at New England College, and has absolutely loved it. Contagious enthusiasm. I have got to find a way to make a low-res program happen -- to come up with the money, and the time/energy.


Lyle Daggett said...

I really like The Ink Dark Moon, a book of translations by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani of two Japanese poets (women), Izumi Shikibu and Ono no Komachi, both of whom lived something like a thousand years ago or more.

If you get curious about that one and go looking, I highly recommend the paperback edition, published a year or two after the hardcover. The paperback includes romaji (Roman alphabet) renderings of the Japanese originals, and informative footnotes to the poems; the hardcover doesn't include either the romaji renderings or the footnotes.

jose said...

Her book of essays, Nine Gates, is one I absolutely treasure. She's clear, wise, lyrical. If you look at the archive of Poetry Daily's features, her essay from Alaska Quarterly is also awesome. And I was her student at Napa when she delivered the talk on the unknown that appears in a recent American Poetry Review.

As a teacher, she combines a sharp eye for language with a wise heart--an unbeatable combination.

jenni said...

Oh I'm so happy for you (and envious!) I have all of her books. Just got the new one last weekend. I like the assays she does--very interesting. And yes, Nine Gates is a wonderful essay book. I highly recommend it. You might be able to pick it up used at amazon. Glad to hear you enjoyed it. I hope to take a workshop or something with her some day.