It’s National Poetry Month, and if you want to learn more about the form, pick up this book. Hirshfield writes fine poetry imbued with a Zen calmness and childlike wonder about the natural world. Her prose is intelligent, well-written and informed by a great knowledge of poetry--both modern and classical.
But it’s her descriptions about writing poems that I like best. As she says, “Poetic imagination is muscular, handed, and kinesthetic.” She describes the poet’s reach into the world as “prehensile.”
According to Hirshfield, poets bring the world of the senses to the page, “In poetry’s words, life calls to life with the same inevitability and gladness as bird calls to bird, whale to whale, frog to frog.”
Chapters include information about seeing with poetry’s eyes, examining American poetry up close, and exploring how language is used, especially in image and metaphor. Hirshfield devotes a complete chapter to the haiku form and to Basho, its originator. In each section, the author explicates many poems by authors you know well: Dickinson, Bishop, and Snyder and poets you might not know: Jack Gilbert and Pessoa.
You can tell from the depth of the topics covered that Hirshfield has spent years studying poetry and learning by doing. The word poetry itself, she informs us, comes from the Greek work poiema from poiein or "to make or compose."
I love how she defines a poem: “a cup of words filled past its brim” and “a good passage.” She tells us that all good poems change the reader in some way after reading. They provide “a distilled surplus and alteration of being.”
This is a book to dive into, savor, and to read over and over again. It’s one that will soon land on my book shelf at home. If you don’t have a hold on it yet, begin with Hirshfield's earlier transformative book on poetry: Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry.