Poet of the Week: Jane Hirshfield

Visiting Fellow Takes to Campbell Hall for a Night of Reading

It would be wrong to say that Jane Hirshfield gets a bad critical rap, but perhaps it is a little limiting. “Everybody wants to put you on a peg; they want to hang me on the Zen peg,” she laughed, speaking by phone from her NorCal home. Such labeling isn’t entirely surprising, since Hirshfield, who will read from her works this Thursday at UCSB, was trained in Buddhist discipline. Truth be told, her images — like “the plum tree outside the window / shoulders perfection” — often resonate from meditative depths. But it doesn’t take long to hear her grounding in the world between Beowulf and Virginia Woolf, either.

“I think the English sonnet, as written by Shakespeare, Milton, and Donne, is every bit as compressed and lyrical as a haiku in offering us a complicated and nuanced examination of the human heart,” she said before trundling through whole catalogues of writers from Osip Mandelstam to contemporary Eastern Europeans, may of whom, she admits, use images primarily to examine ideas of transience and desire. In other words, it’s a bit like Zen. “But all of my poems are personal; don’t make any mistake about it.”

Jane Hirshfield
Click to enlarge photo

Nick Rozsa

Jane Hirshfield

Hirshfield lives in a real world, and her reading, and a three-day stint teaching at UCSB’s College of Creative Studies, is how she keeps solvent within the versifying biz. “I would say that 99 percent of all American poets are employed as academics,” she said, but she prefers life as raconteur educator. “I’m a ronin scholar. I have no children, so all this moving around — sometimes I feel like a very small rock band.”

Her verses are full of music and incisively perceptive. She talks about a moment sliding through “the green coat on old copper” and discusses aloneness from two perspectives: “Wrong solitude vinegars the soul / right solitude oils it.” Her poems also reward rereadings and will surely be even more pleasurable coming from the source. But does she think contemporary poetry is sturdy? “I do. It’s an age that needs lyric poetry, and for the most part, lyric poetry has stepped up to fill the need. Maybe the audience isn’t as big as thriller novelists or rock stars, but as long as people still bring poetry to weddings and funerals, poetry is alright.”

Hirshfield speaks at UCSB’s Campbell Hall this Thursday, February 16, at 8 p.m. Call 893-3535 or visit for info.

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

Montecito Pushes Back on Streamlined Rebuild Process

Not so fast with fast-track rebuilding, leaders tell the county

St. George Files Suit Against Gelb for Unpaid Debt

Pair of Isla Vista landlords in legal tussle over property sales costs.

Thousands of Plaintiffs Added to Refugio Oil Spill Case

Litigation follows footsteps of 1969 Union Oil spill attorneys.

Push Comes to Shove Between Law Enforcement and Mental Health

County supervisors confront too many needs with not enough money.

Helicopter Hits Electrical Wires, Starts Small Fire

A crop duster hit power lines in Ellwood Canyon.