Poetry: An Embodied Experience with Jane Hirshfield

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More than the torrent of data and information that is coming from an increasingly polarized and rageful culture, it’s poetry that’s enlivening our hearts. It’s poetry that takes us to a grander landscape and leads us to the wholeness of things. It helps us stand from a vantage point that includes wonder and awe without denying the dangers and the challenges humanity faces. Here Hirshfield reveals how reading or reciting a poem, at its best, will take us beyond our analytical minds and lands us in an embodied experience. She sheds light on why so many people are turning to and writing poetry in these dark times. “Poetry exists to serve us when we are otherwise unable to hold the great, paradoxical, and enormously powerful currents of our lives in any other language. It exists to assist us through transition moments, through deaths, through falling in love, and weddings, through births, through the cataclysm of the current moment. And yes, more people are becoming aware of the fact that we are living inside a cataclysm.” She also talks of how poetry can help us meet the despair which inevitably rises up in us in the darkest moments. “[E]ven if there is nothing more you can do, if you can bring one word next to another . . . it will cut windows and doors in your despair and give you a way to walk back into the world with others." (hosted by Justine Willis Toms) 


Jane Hirshfield is an award-winning poet, essayist and translator. She's the author of ten books of poetry and two collections of essays. She has edited and co-translated four books presenting the work of world poets from the past. Her books have received the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. Her poems appear in a wide range of prestigious outlets. A resident of Northern California, she is a chancellor emerita of the Academy of American Poets. She presents her work at literary and interdisciplinary events worldwide. In 2017, in conjunction with the March for Science in Washington DC, she founded Poets for Science, an interactive exhibit of science poems and writing invitation housed at Kent State’s Wick Poetry Center, which has traveled to venues across the country. 

Jane Hirshfield has authored many books including: 

  • The October Palace (HarperCollins 1994)
  • The Lives of the Heart (Harper Collins 1997)
  • Women in Praise of the Sacred (HarperCollins 1994)
  • Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (Perennial 1998)
  • After (Harper Collins 2006)
  • Given Sugar, Given Salt (Harper Collins 2001)
  • Come, Thief (Knopf 2011)
  • Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (Alfred A. Knopf 2015)
  • The Beauty: Poems (Alfred A. Knopf 2015)
  • Ledger (Alfred A. Knopf 2020)
  • The Asking: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf 2023) 

To learn more about the work of Jane Hirshfield go to https://www.facebook.com/janehirshfield or www.barclayagency.com/speakers/jane-hirshfield.

Topics explored in this dialogue include:

  • How writing a poem is an act of discovery
  • What meaning did the poem “Tin” have for Hirshfield
  • Why AI can never write a good poem
  • How despair is a spur towards answering and finding a way past it
  • How we are in transition from one way of being on this planet to another
  • Why so many people are writing poetry in these dark times
  • Why Hirshfield often combines her poetry with science
  • What is the meaning of the poem “On the Fifth Day” Hirshfield read on the Washington Mall in 2017 at the March for Science gathering
  • From what poem her book titled “The Asking” derived
  • Why kinship matters for the seemingly insurmountable challenges before us
  • What is the Australian phrase “you beauty” that Hirshfield has made into a practice
  • What is the Abrahamic desert tradition when a stranger comes to your door: first feed them, give them a bed, then ask their story

 Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 9/1/2023   Program Number: 3796

Music Playlist

From Album:  Optimism Collection (disc 2)
Artist:  Muriel Anderson

Opening Essay: Track 01 Remember to Recycle
Music Break 1: Track 02 Summer Morning Rain
Music Break 2: Track 09 Arioso
Music Break 3: Track 17 Prayer without Ceasing