Jane Hirshfield’s poetry reveals her total exuberance for life in this world. Interesting and interested, the scope of Hirshfield’s poetry is stunning in both breadth and depth; her poems invite readers to contemplate the many facets of being. Of Hirshfield’s books, Laura Donnelly writes, “[T]hey waken us through their travels in the elemental; or rather, they waken us to the ways the elemental travels through us.” Hirshfield works masterfully across multiple genres and roles and has enjoyed a thoroughly impressive career as a poet, an essayist, a translator, and an editor. Her poetry addresses a broad array of experiences and feelings with a keen curiosity and deep spirituality, finding beauty in all corners of human life. Hirshfield has written ten books of poetry, the most recent of which is The Beauty: Poems (2015), two books of essays, and has edited four anthologies. She received her BA from Princeton University in 1973, a member of its first class to include women, and in 1979 received lay ordination in Soto Zen at the San Francisco Zen Center. She has received many awards for her poetry, including fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and an Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement from The Academy of American Poets in 2004. Hirshfield has served as a contributing editor at The Alaska Quarterly Review and Ploughshares and has held residencies at Yaddo, the MacDowell Colony. From 2012 to 2017, Hirshfield served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Poetry Center Reading:
Like Two Negative Numbers Multiplied by Rain
Lie down, you are horizontal.
Stand up, you are not.
I wanted my fate to be human.
Like a perfume
that does not choose the direction it travels,
that cannot be straight or crooked, kept out or kept.
Yes, No, Or
—a day, a life, slips through them,
taking off the third skin,
taking off the fourth.
And the logic of shoes becomes at last simple,
an animal question, scuffing.
Old shoes, old roads—
the questions keep being new ones.
Like two negative numbers multiplied by rain
into oranges and olives.
You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubbornness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.
Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.
This rebus—slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life—
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolored by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.
As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.
The ladder leans into its darkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.
How can I enter this question the clay has asked?
under stars in a field.
They lie under rain in a field.
are like this as well—
like a painting
hidden beneath another painting.
An unexpected weight
the sign of their ripeness.
you and I will become
of a memory of a memory.
released of the traces
forgets the weight of the wagon.