Poetry, Passion, And Zen with Jane Hirshfield

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“Poetry is a natural way to express what it means to be human,” says Jane Hirshfield. “Its depth and color are found in every culture and every age—in the writings not only of famous men but of equally gifted women who have been largely ignored.” Hirshfield herself assembled a historical collection of women’s poetry that speaks to the beauty and wisdom of women’s spiritual experience. She reveals recurring themes in this poetry, such as the ideas that the Divine is experienced through everyday actions and events, and that emotions belong in the enlightened life rather than detract from it. Hirshfield offers gentle wisdom about writing and appreciating poetry: “The poem is the speech of the inner heart, the inner mind,” she says. “If you can simply hear what it’s saying as if it were being whispered to you in the dark, you will understand good poems.” (hosted by Michael Toms)


Jane Hirshfield is a poet, translator, and essayist and is the author of many collections of poetry and other books, including three collections of women poets from the past. Her awards include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the Academy of American Poets, and the National Endowment for the Arts, three Pushcart Prizes, the California Book Award, The Poetry Center Book Award, and other honors. Her poems appear regularly in magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and Poetry and have been included in six editions of The Best American Poetry.

Her poetry books include:

To learn more about the work of Jane Hirshfield go to www.facebook.com/janehirshfield.

Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • Overcoming the “fear of poetry”
  • Writing, hearing and understanding poetry
  • Women’s poetry in the ancient Japanese imperial court
  • What mystics of all traditions say about the Divine and the everyday
  • How Zen practice relates to poetry
  • Her extensive search for sacred writings by women
  • Undiscovered women writers who exist “wherever you have men writers”
  • The Beguine women’s spiritual communities of the 12th-14th centuries
  • The modern rediscovery of Sophia, ancient goddess of wisdom
  • Getting to wisdom by losing innocence and breaking the rules
  • The “bodhisattva of emotions” who wants to liberate dark feelings

Host: Michael Toms       Interview Date: 9/13/1994   Program Number: 2486

Music Included

From Album: Gula Gula
Artist: Mari Boine Persen
1990 Real World #91631-2

From Album: Hunter
Artist: Jennifer Warnes
Private Music #01005-82089-2

From Album: What the Mother Pot Sings
Artist: Susan Berman
Fine Tuning Music #FT 101