Sunday, February 19, 2006

Sunday Poet: Jane Hirshfield

Poem Holding Its Heart In One Fist

Each pebble in this world keeps
its own counsel.

Certain words--these, for instance--
may be keeping a pronoun hidden.
Perhaps the lover's you
or the solipsist's I.
Perhaps the philosopher's willowy it.

The concealment plainly delights.

Even a desk will gather
its clutch of secret, half-crumpled papers,
eased slowly, over years,
behind the backs of drawers.

Olives adrift in the altering brine-bath
etch onto their innermost pits
a few furrowed salts that will never be found by the tongue.

Yet even with so much withheld,
so much unspoken,
potatoes are cooked with butter and parsley,
and buttons affixed to their sweater.
Invited guests arrive, then dutifully leave.

And this poem, afterward, washes its breasts
with soap and trembling hands, disguising nothing.
From PoetryMagazine.

Here is some biographical info from the American Academy of Poets:
Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. After receiving her B.A. from Princeton University in their first graduating class to include women, she went on to study at the San Francisco Zen Center. Her books of poetry include Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001) which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Lives of the Heart (1997), The October Palace (1994), Of Gravity & Angels (1988), and Alaya (1982).

She is the author of Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (1997) and has also edited and translated The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan (1990) with Mariko Aratani and Women in Praise of the Sacred: Forty-Three Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women (1994).

Hirshfield is a student of Zen Buddhism. Here is a quote from an interview in which she addresses her practice as it relates to her life as a poet:
Zen practice, and particularly monastic practice, was something I needed to do, as a person and as a writer, before I could even think of doing anything else. I was twenty-one when I started to practice, and knew almost nothing of what it was to be a human being, to enter deeply a human life. I needed to learn how to pay attention, how to stay with my own experience, how to become more permeable to the real and also more grounded in it. Before I entered the monastery, all my poems ended in a kind of drifting, in the "dot, dot, dot" of ellipsis. They had a vagueness to them, a desire to escape, that came from a vagueness in my character, my life. One effect of Zen on my poems is that my relationship to elusiveness changed. I became more willing to stand by the image, and so the work became more specific and focused. And though I still write many poems in which certain things are deliberately left unsaid, now I want that unsaid thing to be palpable, comprehensible, and present, like a large boulder six feet behind the reader's shoulder. It may not be in your direct field of vision, but it is solidly, essentially there, as the answer to a koan is there.
Rather than fill this space with a lot of my words, I'll leave you with some more of Jane's.
Three Foxes by the Edge of the Field at Twilight

One ran,
her nose to the ground,
a rusty shadow
neither hunting nor playing.

One stood; sat; lay down; stood again.

One never moved,
except to turn her head a little as we walked.

Finally we drew too close,
and they vanished.
The woods took them back as if they had never been.

I wish I had thought to put my face to the grass.

But we kept walking,
speaking as strangers do when becoming friends.

There is more and more I tell no one,
strangers nor loves.
This slips into the heart

without hurry, as if it had never been.

And yet, among the trees, something has changed.

Something looks back from the trees,
and knows me for who I am.


For further reading:

Ploughshares Profile
PoetryMagazine
Her agent's site
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