Posts Tagged ‘Edward Hirsch’

Two heavyweight champions in the book world

Monday, December 30th, 2013
Share
forklift

How I got the books home.

Tuesday, November 19, was a dreary day – the first rain of the season. I hurried around the Stanford campus collecting my mail from various locations just as the weather was thinking about getting serious. Then, at the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages, I found a USPS postcard for an undelivered parcel. The card, too, had staggered about campus, from one address to another, before finding me. The last day for collection, before the package would be returned to the sender, was that very day. I was annoyed to see that it was an unsolicited book from a warehouse, and the parcel was being held for ransom at at a post office at the uttermost reaches of Menlo Park. As raindrops began falling on my head, I headed back to the car, and threaded my way through the awful rush-hour traffic, snarled by the miserable weather in the fast-falling dark, wending my way past the car accidents and the flashing police lights.

glossaryIt was worth the trip.  The heavy package that awaited me was a book by a friend – Edward Hirsch‘s A Poet’s Glossary, 707 pages of it.  I rented a fork-lift to get it home in the traffic, where I’ll put it on a well-supported shelf next to Roland Greene‘s Princeton Encylopedia of Poetry & Poetics, weighing in at an unbeatable 1,639 pages.  How are they different?  Roland’s encyclopedia, the fourth edition by Princeton University Press, is authoritative and scholarly – “as essential for any working poet as a good dictionary,” according to Writer’s Digest.  Ed’s volume is clearly personal and somewhat whimsical.  “I believe its purpose is to deepen the reader’s initiation into the mysteries of poetic practice. It is a repertoire of poetic secrets, a vocabulary, which proposes a greater pleasure in the text, deeper levels of enchantment,” he said of the project, which was ten years in the making.

greeneAccording to the Houghton Mifflin Harcourt release, “With terms ranging from abecedarian to zeugma, Hirsch brings us along on a journey across the world, introducing us to Bedouin women’s ghinnawa (highly stylized verses conveying some hidden emotion – while leaving the excuse that “it was just a song”) and picong, the style of gentle banter that originated as a sung verbal duel in the West Indies, reminding us along the way of terms that have stayed with us since elementary school (remember acrostic poems?).”

Roland’s book doesn’t have ghinnawa, but it does have glossolalia, “the gift of tongues.” Both have ghazal, of course. Ed has maqāma, an Arabic term for picaresque stories in rhymed prose.  But he doesn’t have Marathi Poetry, a poetic commentary on the Bhagavad Gitā in Marathi rather than the usual Sanskrit, a radical move that started a trend. Roland’s book nailed that one.

Moreover, at a Company of Authors last spring, Roland made an unmatchable offer: if anyone purchased his tome, he offered to help the buyer carry it to the parking lot.  I say, buy them both!  I’ll loan you the fork-lift to get them home.  Many end-of-the-year columns are rating the best books of the year – but who is weighing the heaviest?  (Hirsch won’t be able to enter till next year, with an official 2014 publication date – but Roland’s labor of love is in the running.)

Seth Abramson dons “Kick me!” sign; makes list of top 200 advocates for poetry.

Wednesday, August 14th, 2013
Share
Jane-Hirshfield

Jane made the cut.

Seth Abramson is an intrepid man in a country that publishes 20,000 books of poetry each decade, among 75,000 poets (who counts them, and how?) Here’s why: he has issued a list of “The Top 200 Advocates for Poetry (2013)” in the Huffington Post – it’s here, as well as on dartboards across the U.S.  We all love lists, of course, and everyone has an opinion on how they should be done – this one, particularly.  Two hundred is long enough to give the impression that everyone ought to be included, but short enough that not everyone can be. So Abramson’s gesture is akin to wearing a “Kick me!” sign on your back. He begins by almost apologizing: “The poets favored by one reader will invariably not be the poets favored by another; in fact, it’s getting harder and harder to find two readers whose reading interests or even reading lists exhibit much overlap at all. Too many such lists, such as the widely- and justly-panned one recently published by Flavorwire, exhibit obvious age, race, ethnicity, and (particularly) geographic biases.”  We would like to fault him, first of all, for hyphening an adverb that ends in “ly,” which is never done – moreover, it’s dangerous to begin a list by dissing someone else’s. In that way, you’ve made your first enemy already.

Wilbur2

Lifetime achievement, for sure.

He continues for some paragraphs in the same vein: “As a contemporary poetry reviewer who publishes his review-essays in The Huffington Post, I have no special access to knowledge of who is or isn’t doing the most to be an advocate for American poetry (a term I define very broadly) on a national or global scale. While I’m lucky to have access to many more published poetry collections than most poets or poetry readers do, as like any reviewer I regularly receive poetry collections in the mail from U.S. and international publishers, because the list below isn’t intended to detail who’s presently writing the best poetry, but is rather simply a list of who’s doing the best to advocate for American poetry by any and all means (including by writing it, but by no means limited to the authorial function), I’m not in a much better position than others are to generate a list of the most influential poetry advocates in America and beyond.”

Well, sure, I guess.  That said, we were pleased to see a number of friends and colleagues on the list – Kay Ryan, Jane Hirshfield,  W.S. Merwin, Don Share, Ron Silliman, Helen Vendler, Heather McHugh, Allison Joseph, Eavan Boland, Mark McGurl – and nonagenarian Richard Wilbur, a lifetime achievement award, for sure.

hirsch

Where’s Ed?

Abramson qualifies that “the list below is neither exhaustive nor authoritative nor superlative. I have no doubt that I’ve missed a number of important names, due either to forgetfulness or an unconscious bias or simply (and most likely) sheer ignorance of who’s doing what across the vast landscape of American literature. … Those poets and allies of poetry offering contributions to American poetry commensurate with the contributions of the individuals listed below should therefore consider themselves honorary members of the ‘Top 200 Advocates for American Poetry” list as well.’

RSGWYNNThen he issued this invitation: “I strongly encourage readers of this list to contribute their own names to the comment section below the article.”  Needless to say, there were a number of people ready to take him up on the offer, including other friends’ names.  What?  No Edward Hirsch?  What?  No Robert Hass?  And no mention of Dana Gioia, whose work at the NEA was tireless?

Naturally, Humble Moi didn’t make the list – but to my surprise, I did make it in the first few comments in the section afterward, for which I’m grateful to R.S. Gwynn, another friend, who did make the list:

“I’m happy to be listed here (even though I’d like to be known as ‘poet and critic’) but I miss the presence of such names as Alfred Corn, the late Tom Disch, Dana Gioia, Cynthia Haven, X. J. Kennedy, and David Mason, all of whom are (or were in Tom’s case) great advocates.

As a small plug, I’d like to mention that I edited a book of the works of modernist poet-critics some years ago. Its title?  The Advocates of Poetry.

Just for that, here’s a picture of Sam Gwynn’s book, which discusses John Crowe Ransom, Randall Jarrell, Allen Tate, John Ciardi, and Robert Penn Warren – great advocates of poetry all.

 

From Kraków – a great queen, a green queen, and 2 heavy books

Thursday, May 12th, 2011
Share

The hotseat

The big day:  I spoke at the Collegium Novum of Jagiellonian University yesterday at the Czesław Miłosz Centenary Festival.

If you have to say anything at all, this is about the most intimidating setting that can be imagined to say it in.  Queen (and Saint) Jadwiga looked down on me from above, Pope John Paul II (an alum) gazed at me compassionately from a large portrait to my right, and farther down the hall, a young Copernicus (another alum) gazed up in astonishment at the night sky in a huge painting.  And then there was Humble Moi, in the prorector’s chair.

Nothing to do except take a deep breath, stand up, and imagine that everyone’s head is a cabbage.  Just me and Copernicus.

It’s humbling in other ways.  You roll your eyes at how boring some of the talks were – and then you get the opportunity to bore people yourself.  At least I kept mine beneath the requested 20 minutes.

Queen Jadwiga...not amused

It was nevertheless an honor to speak here.  A picture of the intimidating prorector’s chair I occupied is at right – the very first Book Haven photo from my brand new Droid.

Two years ago I fell in love with the university, one of the oldest in Europe, and Kraków as well, after a moonlight introduction to the city after a glass of wine with Adam Zagajewski. The city is charming at night, alive with lights and people and cafes against the dark backdrop of the trees in the Planty.  That impromptu tour, which included the famous, shadowlit arches of the Collegium Maius, helped me persevere in what sometimes seemed like a daunting,  Rupelstiltskin-type research task during my Milena Jesenská Fellowship with the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen.

I told many stories from the podium at Jagiellonian, but one of my favorites is another kind of Rumpelstiltskin-type odyssey explained by Clare Cavanagh, Miłosz’s American biographer, as she describes her relationship with the curmudgeonly Miłosz:

Green Queen

“Sometimes the doubts ran deeper—his life, his poetry, his soul. And sometimes the doubts were about me: ‘You will produce not my life, but only some facsimile,’ he said with a scowl in the summer of 2003. He spent several weeks that summer putting me through the biographer’s equivalent of boot camp. … every day he gave the same response: ‘Takie oszywiste pytania,’ ‘(Such obvious questions).’ Then he’d would invite me for another session the next day, when yet another set of questions would be dismissed and after an excruciating hour or two, I’d would be sent home to think up some ‘questions no one’s asked me yet.’ …

Finally, after a sleepless night spent reading and rereading the then-untranslated Second Space, I went in and asked about the poems, and about religion. Those were the questions he wanted. And that was what I’d wanted to talk about, too, but I’d thought biographers were supposed to do something different. We talked about ‘Father Seweryn’ and ‘The Treatise on Theology’—I said I’d been surprised by the Virgin at the end, and he laughed and said, ‘I was, too.’

Clare, of course, is here in Kraków, too.  And still wearing her green jacket, her green glasses, and (I’ve learned in Kraków) she has a green backpack to match.  Daughter of Eire.

***

Today I got more swag.  After a seminar on translation with Agnieszka Kosińska, another of my contributors (the session was in Polish, but I went just for Agnieszka), we made a trek to the Book Institute off Kraków’s main square. The Book Institute is a wonderful organization in Kraków – funded by the Ministry of Culture, I think – that promotes Polish literature.

The books they gave me will tip the scales at the next airport.  Andrzej Franaszek‘s new 1,000-page biography of Miłosz, and a 1,400-page collected poems – both published by Znak. Clare told me that about a third of Miłosz’s poems have not been translated yet, to my best recollection of the size of the English-language Collected, that sounds about right.

During a visit with octogenarian poet and author Marek Skwarnicki (another contributor) way on the outskirts of Kraków this afternoon, he said the biography is a bit of a wonder in Kraków.  Andrew has spent 10 years working on the book, and is now only about 40.  Such a thick book from such a young man is not commonplace in Poland, Marek said.

Now.  All I have to be able to do is get on the airplane with all this.

Oh, oh, oh … I haven’t told you about the Miłosz pavilion yet.  And the reading with Adonis and Ryszard Krynicki and Ed Hirsch and Jane Hirshfield tonight. There’s more to come.

Meet you in Manhattan!

Sunday, March 20th, 2011
Share

I’m off!  Or at least I will be in a few hours.

I’m on my way to a week of gigs honoring the Czesław Miłosz centenary in New York City — with a side order for Zbigniew Herbert.  I posted about them a while back here.

Come up and say hello if you see me — otherwise, prepare for a few logistical delays, but I expect to be posting about Clare Cavanagh, Robert Hass, Edward Hirsch, Adam Zagajewski, Anna Frajlich, Bogdana Carpenter, James Marcus, and many others in the coming days.

See you there!

Join me in NYC for the Czesław Miłosz Centenary!

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
Share

There’s a swirl of events March 21-28 honoring the Czesław Miłosz centenary in New York City (and one event for Zbigniew Herbert).  Join me in celebrating, if you’re in town!  It’s certainly a rare event for me — at least a decade since I’ve been in New York at all, sedentary little West Coaster that I am.

I will be speaking at Columbia University (see poster at right) on the 28th and at the Brooklyn Central Library on the 27th.

Ann Kjellberg at Little Star has blogged about some of the other events here.

They include:

March 21 — 8 p.m., Kaufman Concert Hall, 92 Street Y: “A Celebration of Czesław Miłosz with Robert Hass, Adam Zagajewski and Clare Cavanagh

March 22 — 7 p.m., Music Building, Queens College: “A Centennial Celebration of the Work of Czesław Miłosz” — Clare Cavanagh, Robert Hass, Edward Hirsch, Adam Zagajewski

March 24 — 7 p.m., Poets House: “A Poet’s Prose: The Poetic Vision of Zbigniew Herbert,” Edward Hirsch, Charles Simic, Alissa Valles, Adam Zagajewski

March 27 — 1.30 p.m., Brooklyn Central Library, “An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz,” Cynthia Haven, Adam Zagajewski, Anna Frajlich, Elizabeth Valkenier and Zygmunt Malinowski

March 28 — 7 p.m., The Lindsay Rogers Room, Columbia University, “An Invisible Rope: Portraits of Czesław Miłosz,” Cynthia Haven, Anna Frajlich, Elizabeth Valkenier, Bogdana Carpenter, James Marcus, and Alan Timberlake


Breaking up is hard to do

Friday, July 16th, 2010
Share

Collins doesn't like the Kindle Effect on line breaks

Poet Billy Collins has come out decisively against the e-book. The AP story is here.

His reason:  It’s difficult to manage a poem’s line breaks on the electronic screen, which has a disturbing tendency to break lines at awkward places and slide the remaining text onto the next line flush left, as if it were a new line.  Why it’s taken Collins so long to notice this is unclear — he could have seen it in any of his online reviews.  (Or witness my unsuccessful attempts to reproduce a few lines from Christopher Smart’s “Jubilate Agno”  on wordpress here.)

From Collins:

“The critical difference between prose and poetry is that prose is kind of like water and will become the shape of any vessel you pour it into to. Poetry is like a piece of sculpture and can easily break.”

Here’s some more mixed views on poetry and the e-book from Ed Hirsch:

“I have mixed feelings about poetry and e-books,” says award-winning poet Edward Hirsch, whose The Living Fire came out in March in hardcover, but not as an electronic text. “I don’t think it’s the best way to read poetry myself and I wouldn’t want to read it on the e-book, but it also seems important to have poetry available wherever possible.”

Pinsky (Photo: Steve Castillo)

and Robert Pinsky:

“On the whole, poetry is well suited for electronic media,” says Pinsky, a frequent Slate contributor. [Slate publishes poetry and has weekly poetry podcasts.] He is confident the technical problems can be fixed, but that adds that besides the problems with portable e-readers, “most word processors treat verse as though each line were a paragraph.

“So, for example, typing a Wallace Stevens poem with capital letters at the beginning of the lines can be mildly annoying,” Pinsky says.

Poets not yet in e-form:  Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Sylvia Plath, W.H. Auden, Robert Lowell, Langston Hughes, C.K. Williams, W.S. Merwin, Charles Simic, Louise Glück, Derek Walcott, Paul Muldoon, and Robert Pinsky.

Nice review of Collins’ new Ballistics in the New York Times here.  And a 6-minute podcast of Pinsky reading “Jubilate Agno” here — listening is one way to avoid the line break controversy altogether.

Ed Hirsch: “If only I could sweat this much at the gym”

Saturday, May 1st, 2010
Share
hirsch

Edward Hirsch

By any standard, Edward Hirsch is a bigshot in the literary world.  So what a pleasant surprise that he doesn’t act like one!

The award-winning poet, author of the best-selling How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, MacArthur “genius” fellow, president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation in NYC, is actually a modest, gentle, and affable kind of guy.  Or so he seemed at last week’s reading at the Humanities Center, followed by a discussion in the Terrace Room the next day.

“It was not (to start again) what one had expected…”  For one thing, the accent was vintage Jewish Chicago — land of Saul Bellow and Isaac Rosenfeld.  The facial features were large and friendly, and the boyish grin usually a few seconds away.

At the Monday night reading, he received fulsome praise from Eavan Boland, before coming to the podium and joking, “I feel understood.”

The 45-minute wide-ranging reading, largely from his new The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, included poems about the electric green couch that he inherited and shuttled from house to house, city to city; Christopher Smart and his cat Jeoffry; his disillusionment and anger with God (and vice versa); Czesław Miłosz; and one poem, “In Memoriam: Paul Célan,” which concluded:

51VPHf8OtGL._SX106_

Lay these words on the dead man’s lips
like burning tongs, a tongue of flame.
A scouring eagle wheels and shrieks.
Let God pray to us for this man.

“If only I could sweat this much at the gym,” he said afterwards.

And then there were the questions and answers.

Question from Tobias Wolff: “The couch.  I want to know more about the couch.  Aside from its color, was it comfortable?”

Hirsch: “You can always tell a fiction writer. No wonder they need the whole page … No one ever asked me about the couch.”

Question: “About the books you were reading on the green couch, you were reading a lot of philosophy.”

Hirsch: “Are you upset with me for that?

Question: “Ah, yeah.”

Hirsch praised Martin Buber, and noted the “ancient battle between philosophers and poets – and we’re right.”

Question: “How do you know when your poems end?”

Hirsch interpreted this question as:  “Your poems to seem to just stop.”

“You’re working through something in a poem,” he said, and need to “come to some satisfactory conclusion.”

Sometimes, he said, he hadn’t “had the chops to make it conclude, haven’t had the emotional material…”

Question from Nicholas Jenkins: “The past is a huge theme in your poetry … I wonder whether you have a vision of your future as a poet.”

Hirsch: “You ought to be a professor!”

Prof. Jenkins: “It didn’t work out.”

Hirsch said he wanted his future to include “the largest possible embrace in terms of the world” …  “suffering and joy, agony and exultation.”

Question from John Felstiner: He flagged  “In Memoriam: Paul Célan,” as “standing out almost completely —  the reach and the surprise.”

“How does that sound to you?”

Hirsch: “That sounds swell.”

“Every so often you write something that shocks you. This is the gift of writing properly, and it still startles you.”

Question: The questioner raised the subject of God in Hirsch’s poem, specifically “A Personal History of My Stupidity,” a poem that begins with traffic and ends with:  “I did not believe in God, who eluded me.”

Hirsch: “I’ve thought about God – about why and how I’m still angry at him for no longer existing.”

“I can’t give you a full answer to my struggles with belief.  I don’t feel I have been gifted with belief, but I haven’t given up the longing.”

“What you might be hearing is a deep quest in me for something transcendental. … a longing for something else, and a critique of that longing.”

“It’s the poetry of a yearner – does that seem fair?”

In that spirit, two supernatural events occurred during the evening and the Tuesday discussion that followed the next day:

The first occurred during the Monday reading, as he discussed a 2001 trip, sponsored by the State Department on the fifth anniversary of Joseph Brodsky’s death, that took him to the Russian poet’s place of internal exile, Archangelsk.  “I was shocked about how cold it was!” said the native Chicagoan, who knows something about cold.  Suddenly, the lights flickered briefly.

“Those Soviets still have a lot of power,” he said, and recovered quickly, just as the lights did.  “If only I’d been reading James Merrill, I could have mistaken it for contact.”

The contact occurred instead the next day, during his Tuesday presentation.  In addition to extolling one of his favorite philosophers, Buber, he praised Pascal: “I love Pascal!” His microphone began to hiss with static.  “Whenever I say this, he gets my microphone. ‘If you love me so much, why are you Jewish?'”