By Maggie Trapp
Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight collections of poetry, most recently The Beauty (Knopf, 2015), as well as two books of essays, Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (Knopf, 2015) and Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (Harper Perennial, 1997). Hirshfield’s honors include The Poetry Center Book Award; fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets; Columbia University’s Translation Center Award; and (both twice) The California Book Award and the Northern California Book Reviewers Award. In 2012 she was received the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. In fall 2004, Jane Hirshfield was awarded the 70th Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by The Academy of American Poets, an honor formerly held by such poets as Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop. In 2012, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
I have been reading Jane Hirshfield’s poetry for years, but it was only relatively recently that I was introduced to her critical prose when I was told by a friend to read Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry two years ago. Reading this collection of essays on poetry was eye opening, and it has changed my teaching and informed my own writing in numerous ways. When I learned that Hirshfield was coming out with a new book of essays that carry on the work done in Nine Gates, I knew I wanted to talk with her about her ideas as well as her process. Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World is a gorgeous book, and I feel honored to have been able to talk with Hirshfield about it. (Maggie Trapp)
In Ten Windows you write, “This book continues the investigation begun in an earlier volume, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. The questions pursued by poems themselves are speckled, partial, and infinite. These books, though, pursue as well a single question: How do poems—how does art—work? Under that question, inevitably, is another: How do we? Inside the intricate clockworks of language and music, event and life, what allows and invites us to feel and know as we do, and then to increase our feeling and knowing?” (vii–viii) What spurred you to write Ten Windows? What need in you, and/or what lack in the world, do you see this book as addressing?
Philip Larkin published a book of essays under the title, Required Writing. I suppose my essays are “required thinking,” because I write them when asked to speak thoughtfully about poetry in public—each of the pieces in the book began as a talk. But if I’m going to spend two or three months writing, and if some number of people will spend an hour of their lives listening to and later reading what I’ve written, I want that quotient of life to go toward something interesting, and, I hope, a little new, a little unusual. Tap-root questions are where my curiosity lies. How do poems help us carry the uncertainty that is part of the human condition? Why is paradox such a ubiquitous route to enlarged knowledge? If you begin with nothing at all, what goes into the making of poems? How is it that poems we’ve read a hundred times still have the capacity to move us to tears? A good question is for me the start of discovery—it focuses attention, the way a physical window invites and governs the direction of looking out that will happen through it. Read the full story »