The Power Of Poetry In Uncertain Times with Jane Hirshfield

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In this time of global uncertainty good poems can soften the heart and help us face another day with curiosity, wonder and hope. A good poem gives us another lens with which to view the world and helps bring what is often unseen into view. It can be the observation of a single ant making its way across a laptop computer or turtles in moonlight. Poetry opens us to feel our connection to one another and nature. It gives us the opportunity to recalibrate our perspective on our place in the world. Hirshfield says of her new book of poetry, Ledger, “It's an attempt to find my way, navigating poem by poem over to some sense of the balance between the recognition of cataclysm and the appreciation of this still beautiful world with its abundance of treasures and gifts that I still open my eyes into every day . . . it's a ledger of perhaps despair and praise.” (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Jane Hirshfield is the author of nine 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 Hal-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. 

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)

To learn more about the work of Jane Hirshfield go to\janehirshfield.

Topics explored in this dialogue include:

  • How we can be grateful with praise in the midst of worldwide challenges by looking out the window
  • How poetry is a deep collaboration of language, music, psyche, and ideas
  • How the poem “I Wanted to be Surprised” can apply to the coronavirus
  • How poems can show the interconnection between the most minute and humble to the most large and numinous
  • The poem that went viral, “Today When I Could Do Nothing”
  • Doing something small might be the only thing one can do in the moment to help
  • How poems can be a recalibration of our faith in living in the day of darkness
  • How might we best receive a poem. A poem should never bully its reader
  • How meditation informs Hirshfield’s poetry
  • Poem, “On the Fifth Day”, was written in defense of scientists and spoken on the Washington Mall at a March for Science rally
  • Her poem “Cataclysm” is about the disruption of ecosystems and prescient of social distancing
  • How poems can speak of fundamental things using the materials that are humanly recognizable. They know no border, no boundary of language, time, or culture
  • How the simpatico of poetry with science is a great joy for Hirshfield. It is like blending flavors in a well made soup

Host: Justine Willis Toms   Interview Date: 4/16/2020   Program Number: 3702

Music Playlist

From Album: Wave Hands Like Clouds
Artist: Buedi Siebert

Opening Essay: Track 02: Life Breath and Track 04: Building Chi (part)
Music Break 1: Track 04: Building Chi (continued)
Music Break 2: Track 05: The Gentle Way
Music Break 3: Track 11 Into The Distance