The Lives of the Heart

Overview

A new volume of poems by the award-winning author of October Palace.
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Overview

A new volume of poems by the award-winning author of October Palace.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
A gifted writer in midcareer, Hirshfield has published her fourth collection of poetry in tandem with a book of essays geared toward the creative writing student. The poems are of the momenteach a single gesture encompassing the dichotomies of presence and absence, life and death, being and not-beingand are heavily influenced by classical Japanese verse Hirshfield helped translate with Mariko Aratani Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems, by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu and the Zen Buddhism she has studied for many years: "I turn my blessing like photographs into the light;/ over my shoulder the god of Not-Yet looks on." The best are tragic in their unencumbered vision of human limitation; in one, the speaker listens to a piano played movinglyindeed, even more so, because it is played haltinglyand is ashamed "not at my tears, or even at what has been wasted,/ but to have been dry-eyed so long." Several of the nine essays in Nine Gates originated as lectures presented at writers' conferences. Clear and methodicalsometimes to the point of tediousnessthey discuss the process of poetry with examples from standards like Frost, Yeats, Larkin, Whitman, and a few contemporaries. More individual are the discussions of non-Western verse and aesthetics and the process of translation from Japanese Hirshfield cannot read Japanese and admits her translations were done cooperatively with a native speaker. In a rare personal confession, she describes herself to the late poet Richard Hugo, whom she did not know: "I don't write much/ about America, or even people. I'd often enough rather/ talk to horses." Indeed, it is the quiet restraint of these writingspoems and prosethat appeals. Recommended.Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060951696
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 1/28/2000
  • Series: Harper Perennial
  • Pages: 128
  • Sales rank: 783,087
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.32 (d)

Meet the Author

The author of five previous poetry collections and a book of essays, Jane Hirshfield has been a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and England’s T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, and she is the winner of the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, and multiple volumes of The Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies.

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Read an Excerpt

The Lives of the Heart

Are ligneous, muscular, chemical.
Wear birch-colored feathers,
green tunnels of horse-tail reed.
Wear calcified spirals, Fibonaccian spheres.
Are edible; are glassy; are clay; blue schist.
Can be burned as tallow, as coal,
can be skinned for garnets, for shoes.
Cast shadows or light;
shuffle; snort; cry out in passion.
Are salt, are bitter,
tear sweet grass with their teeth.
Step silently into blue needle-fall at dawn.
Thrash in the net until hit.
Rise up as cities, as serpentined magma, as maples,
hiss lava-red into the sea.
Leave the strange kiss of their bodies
in Burgess Shale. Can be found, can be lost,
can be carried, broken, sung.
Lie dormant until they are opened by ice,
by drought. Go blind in the service of lace.
Are starving, are sated, indifferent, curious, mad.
Are stamped out in plastic, in tin.
Are stubborn, are careful, are slipshod,
are strung on the blue backs of flies
on the black backs of cows.
Wander the vacant whale-roads, the white thickets
heavy with slaughter.
Wander the fragrant carpets of alpine flowers.
Not one is not held in the arms of the rest, to blossom.
Not one is not given to ecstasy's lions.
Not one does not grieve.
Each of them opens and closes, closes and opens
the heavy gate--violent, serene, consenting, suffering it all.

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