Celebrated Poet Jane Hirshfield Explains Poetry as 'A Truing of Vision'

By Lund, Elizabeth | The Christian Science Monitor, April 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

Celebrated Poet Jane Hirshfield Explains Poetry as 'A Truing of Vision'


Lund, Elizabeth, The Christian Science Monitor


Jane Hirshfield's poetry has always provided gleaming perspectives on the nature of life and what it means to be human. Now, with the publication of two new books, she is giving fans great reason to celebrate the art form during National Poetry Month and beyond.

Both sophisticated readers and novices may want to start with Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World before dipping into The Beauty, Hirshfield's eighth book of poems. The former, a compelling collection of essays, explores and explicates the creative process, while the latter demonstrates powerful writing in all its glory.

Hirshfield's prose, like her verse, is immediately engaging because it brims with intelligence and artistry. Her pithy preface to "Ten Windows" begins with this: "Good art is a truing of vision, in the way a saw is trued in the saw shop, to cut more cleanly. It is also a changing. Entering a good poem, a person feels, tastes, hears, and thinks in altered ways. Why ask art into a life at all, if not to be transformed and enlarged by its presence and mysterious means?"

The essays that follow show how poets shape - and are shaped by - language and the intuitive urgings that give poetry its expansive power. Hirshfield, whose honors include a Guggenheim and the Poetry Center Book Award, writes with the conviction and ease of someone who has studied and loved great poems for more than 30 years. That rich background enables her to move effortlessly from broad strokes to in-depth observations about works by Hopkins, Basho, Keats, Dickinson, and other essential writers.

Some of the most important lessons come early in the book, such as the concept of poetic vision - or poetry's eyes - introduced in Chapter 1. "This altered vision is the secret happiness of poems, of poets," she writes. "It is as if the poem encounters the world and finds in it a hidden language, a Braille unreadable except when raised by the awakened imaginative mind." Hirshfield helps people feel that language, moving quickly, deeply into foundational principles that allow both readers and writers to move ahead.

Each succeeding chapter introduces other essential building blocks, such as imagery, statements (complex and simple), and hiddenness or concealment. Hirshfield makes each topic so rich that readers don't merely understand; they become part of the creative process, as if the poet were writing them. …

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