The author of five previous poetry collections and a book of essays, Jane Hirshfield has been a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and England's T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, and she is the winner of the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, and multiple volumes of The Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies.
A gifted writer in midcareer, Hirshfield has published her fourth collection of poetry in tandem with a book of essays geared toward the creative writing student. The poems are of the moment‘each a single gesture encompassing the dichotomies of presence and absence, life and death, being and not-being‘and are heavily influenced by classical Japanese verse Hirshfield helped translate with Mariko Aratani (Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems, by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu) and the Zen Buddhism she has studied for many years: "I turn my blessing like photographs into the light;/ over my shoulder the god of Not-Yet looks on." The best are tragic in their unencumbered vision of human limitation; in one, the speaker listens to a piano played movingly‘indeed, even more so, because it is played haltingly‘and is ashamed "not at my tears, or even at what has been wasted,/ but to have been dry-eyed so long." Several of the nine essays in Nine Gates originated as lectures presented at writers' conferences. Clear and methodical‘sometimes to the point of tediousness‘they discuss the process of poetry with examples from standards like Frost, Yeats, Larkin, Whitman, and a few contemporaries. More individual are the discussions of non-Western verse and aesthetics and the process of translation from Japanese (Hirshfield cannot read Japanese and admits her translations were done cooperatively with a native speaker). In a rare personal confession, she describes herself to the late poet Richard Hugo, whom she did not know: "I don't write much/ about America, or even people. I'd often enough rather/ talk to horses." Indeed, it is the quiet restraint of these writings‘poems and prose‘that appeals. Recommended.‘Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York
A cross between a reader's guide to poetry and a how-to guide for would-be poets, Hirshfield's collected essays on poetic understanding read like a series of vigorous, well-documented university guest lectures‘and, in fact, most were written either as lectures at writing conferences or for literary periodicals. She approaches her subject matter, the "mind of poetry," by exploring questions of artistry, originality, sensation and most significantly, the connection between the outer world and the interior mind that is bound together in the body of a poem. The essays skillfully navigate the territory of poetry while avoiding the pitfalls: rather than ask the dogged question "What is a poem?", Hirshfield sticks to "how and why does a poem do the things it does?" Some essays begin by exploring a particular problem but extend to a more universal study. In one essay, a musing on the phrase "leaves of words" leads the author on a tour through Japanese poetic history to find the bounty of "a single moment's perception... more than enough to hold a world." At other times, Hirshfield writes inductively, as in a deft essay on translation in which she begins by surveying the discussion of fidelity in translation and ends with specific lessons from her own translations of women poets of the ancient Japanese court. The interconnectedness of these distinct essays is a measure of the author's control over the collection and her insight into poetry. With her feet firmly planted in both the Western and Eastern canons, Hirshfield delivers a thorough and timely collection on our relationships to poetry, our relationship to the world and everything in between. (Sept.)
"Jane Hirshfield dares to write about the mysteries of art, and she approaches them in a way that feels exactly right to me: plainly, reverently, intelligently. She respects subject matter and gives due weight to both past masters and her own intuition. The result is rare and fine: a collection of essays combining the richness of a daybook with the pointed quality of a good lecture." -- Robert Pinsky, Poet Laureate of the United States"These expansive, fearless essays are on the basics of--not poesy in any small sense--but mind, wit, stalking, silky focus, the eros of knowledge, the steely etiquette of art. For those who want it, here's guidance toward the power of being in the margin, the calm ease of the center."-- Gary Snyder, author of "Mountains and Rivers Without End""With the exactitude of a surgeon and the sensuous attention of a chef, Hirshfield addresses, essay by essay, the art, craft, and act of making poetry . . . These essays are both brilliantly ambitious--one random passage in her last piece, on 'writing and the threshold life, ' flows 14th-century Japanese poet Ono no Komachi (whose poems she has translated in the past) into Czeslaw Milosz into Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman--and confidently clear." -- "Village Voice" "A cross between a reader's guide to poetry and a how-to guide for would-be poets, Hirshfield's collected essays on poetic understanding read like a series of vigorous, well-documented university guest lectures...With her feet firmly planted in both the Western and Eastern canons, Hirshfield delivers a thorough and timely collection on our relationships to poetry, our relationship to the world and everything in between."-- "Publishers Weekly" "It is thequiet restraint of these writings--poems and prose--that appeals. Recommended."-- "Library Journal"[Hirshfield's] nine essays, or "gates, " range a wide territory, in often strikingly beautiful language, to consider such objects as concentration, prosody, translation, poetry's roots as an oral art form, and the importance of shadow to art and spiritual life."-- "Hungry Mind Review"In the outstanding and lucid critical essays in "Nine Gates, Hirshfield proves that she, like all good poets, is a gifted reader . . . Happily, this enlightening volume does exactly what Hirshfield hoped it would: it intensifies our response to poetry, hence to life."-- "Booklist (starred)