Welcoming Jane Hirshfield

by Barry Spacks

the broad world we make daily, daily give ourselves to. — from
“The Fish” by Jane Hirshfield

Chryss Yost has arranged a rich poetry program for the Santa
Barbara Book and Author Festival coming up on Saturday, September
30. Poets will perform throughout the day in the Children’s Gallery
at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, with an 11 a.m. reading by Bay
Area poet Jane Hirshfield in the museum’s Mary Craig Auditorium.
All events are free.

Hirshfield, recognized internationally for the Zen spirit she
includes in her observations of nature and reactions to everyday
experience, comes to town to receive the first Glenna Luschei
Distinguished Poet Fellowship. This is an offering to Santa
Barbara’s poetry life from generous poet/publisher Luschei, whose
various permutations of the Solo imprint throughout 40
years — including Café Solo, SOLO, and Solo Café — was itself
celebrated last month at a grand bash at Ventura’s Artists’ Union

Two years ago, Hirshfield was awarded a fellowship for
distinguished poetic achievement by The Academy of American Poets,
an honor formerly held by the likes of Robert Frost, Ezra Pound,
William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop. Other awards include
fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, and
the NEA. Her poems have appeared in the New Yorker, the Atlantic
Monthly, the Nation, the American Poetry Review, Poetry, and many
other publications, and she’s been featured on Garrison Keillor’s
“Writers’ Almanac” program as well as in two Bill Moyers PBS
television specials.

Hirshfield’s sixth collection, After, appeared in February of
this year. She’s also written and spoken with striking penetration
as a critic and scholar, most extensively in her challenging
collection of essays Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry.

When I teach my UCSB course called “Three Poets of
Spirituality,” I reach for Jane’s work as contemporary practice
worthy of the company of Rumi and Rilke. I also use her anthology
Women in Praise of the Sacred, which ranges through centuries of
mystic song.

Let me quote one brief moment from a Hirshfield interview that
gets at the very gist of what her chosen art hopes to accomplish at
its highest bent.

“The great human joy is to lead a known life, and an
interconnected life,” she explained. “To know what we are, within
the self and in relationship to the rest of being, is to be
enlarged. Poetry, and the attentiveness that comes with reading or
writing it, brings that kind of knowledge.” And here’s a brief
sampling from her poems — one excerpted, the other in full — to
offer a taste, at least, of Hirshfield’s delicately luminous way
with words, her quietly projected recognitions.

from This Was Once a Love Poem
Once it pretended shyness, then grew truly shy … It spoke with
passion of history, of art. It was lovely then, this poem. … The
longing has not diminished. Still it understands. It is time to
consider a cat, the cultivation of African violets or flowering
cactus.Yes, it decides: Many miniature cacti, in blue and red painted
pots. When it finds itself disquieted by the pure and unfamiliar
silence of its new life, it will touch them — one, then another — 
with a single finger outstretched like a tiny flame.

Late Self-Portrait by Rembrandt The dog, dead
for years, keeps coming back in the dream. We look at each other
there with the old joy. It was always her gift to bring me into the
present —  Which sleeps, changes, awakens, dresses, leaves.Happiness and unhappiness differ as a bucket hammered from gold
differs from one of pressed tin, this painting proposes. Each
carries the same water, it says.


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