edward hirsch

And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.
—  Edward Hirsch
I don’t believe that only sorrow
and misery can be written.
Happiness, too, can be precise:
Doctor, there’s a keen throbbing
on the left side of my chest
where my ribs are wrenched by joy.
Wings flutter in my shoulders
and blood courses through my body
like waves cresting on a choppy sea.
Look: the eyes blur with tears
and the tears clear.
My head is like skylight.
My heart is like dawn.
—  Edward Hirsch, “Happiness Writes White”

The poet is incited to create a work that can outdistance time and surmount distance, that can bridge the gulf — the chasm — between people otherwise unknown to each other. It can survive changes of language and in language, changes in social norms and customs, the ravages of history. […] The reader completes the poem, in the process bringing to it his or her own past experiences. You are reading poetry — I mean really reading it—when you feel encountered and changed by a poem, when you feel its seismic vibrations, the sounding of your depths.

Edward Hirsch, from How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (Mariner Books, 2000)

Seven on Seven: Bravery in Poetry

This star-studded panel presented some of their favorite poets to an appreciative audience on Wednesday evening at the New School. Alice Quinn introduced them as “all log-rollers,” and beamed through the readings like a benevolent deity.

Mary Karr introduced us to the “bitter wisdom” of Zbigniew Herbert, sometimes in the voice of his Mr. Cogito. Her compelling voice matched the fierceness of Herbert’s words.

Paul Auster spoke movingly of his friend George Oppen. Auster’s descriptive talents gave us a vivid picture of the poet at home in San Francisco, wearing a funny coat on a walk and putting only his pipe in a gym locker before exercising. Auster keeps a tiny etching of canaries by Oppen’s wife as a talisman of this poet’s humble songs. Humble he may have been, but politically brave and exiled in Mexico during the McCarthy years.

Yusuf Komunyakaa chose Muriel Ruykeyser, whom he wishes he could have known. He admires her “lack of hesitation” as a young woman; she went to West Virginia to write of the miners and the alternate Olympics in Italy in 1937. She seemed determined to learn of “the other,” and was drawn to folk lore, jazz and blues. Komunyakaa gave a powerful reading of her incantatory poem, each line beginning with “For that….“

Henri Cole, speaking of James Merrill, evoked other kinds of bravery. There can be great bravery in silence, Cole said. He sees Merrill as a visionary like Blake and Yeats, and his reading of “The Christmas Tree,” gave us a feel for Merrill’s vision and the courage.

Beautiful photos of some of these poets when they were young were projected on the screen behind the speakers. Who knew Joseph Brodsky was so handsome? Edward Hirsch gave a little history of the school dropout, the many languages, the “nostalgia for world culture,” the trial as “parasite Brodsky,” the tragedy of his emigration. But somehow, as with the other poets, the readings were so filled with life and power that it was hard to feel tragic.

When Eleen Myles read from Akilah Oliver’s poems, her own joy in reading them uplifted the audience.

Hilton Als read from Brenda O’Shaugnessy’s book INTERIOR WITH SUDDEN JOY and described poetry as “a burst of joy in an enclosed room.” He was a charming reader and interjected a bit of his own life story into “I Wish I Had More Sisters,” which is a daring thing to do, but in his case worked out just fine.

It was a wonderful evening - hearing such passion in the voices of these writers when they spoke of those who inspired or consoled them and listening to some great poems, reminded many of us what we really care about, and why PEN is so important.

We discover in poetry that we are participating in something which cannot be explained or apprehended by reason or understanding alone. We participate in the imaginary. We create a space for fantasy, we enter our dream life, dream time. We deepen our breathing, our mindfulness to being, our spiritual alertness.
Poetry is an animating force. It comes alive when the poet magically inscribes a wave and thereby creates a new thing, when the text immobilizes it, when the individual poem becomes part of the great sea, when the bottle washes ashore and the wanderer happens upon it, when the reader experiences its inexhaustible depths …

Edward Hirsch, from How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (Mariner Books, 2000)

“Read… poems to yourself in the middle of the night. Turn on a single lamp and read them while you’re alone in an otherwise dark room or while someone else sleeps next to you. Read them when you’re wide awake in the early morning, fully alert. Say them over to yourself in a place where silence reigns and the din of the culture - the constant buzzing noise that surrounds us - has momentarily stopped. These poems have come a great distance to find you.”

- Edward Hirsch

If you are interested, by the time this gets read by most people, it will be Edward’s birthday (January 20). Happy birthday, Edward. Thanks for your work.

Tonight I want to say something wonderful
for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith
in their legs, so much faith in the invisible

arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path
that leads to the stairs instead of the window,
the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror.

I love the way that the sleepwalkers are willing
to step out of their bodies into the night,
to raise their arms and welcome the darkness,

palming the blank spaces, touching everything.
Always they return home safely, like blind men
who know it is morning by feeling shadows.

And always they wake up as themselves again.
That’s why I want to say something astonishing
like: Our hearts are leaving our bodies.

Our hearts are thirsty black handkerchiefs
flying through the trees at night, soaking up
the darkest beams of moonlight, the music

of owls, the motion of wind-torn branches.
And now our hearts are thick black fists
flying back to the glove of our chests

We have to learn to trust our hearts like that.
We have to learn the desperate faith of sleep-
walkers who rise out of their calm beds

and walk through the skin of another life.
We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness
and wake up to ourselves, nourished and surprised.

—  Edward Hirsch, “For the Sleepwalkers”
Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders
That’s why it takes courage
To get out of bed in the morning
And climb into the day.
—  Edward Hirsch, “Gabriel: A Poem”