The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems

The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems

by Edward Hirsch

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A comprehensive selection of one of our most beloved poet’s rich and signifi cant body of work alongside a gathering of “brilliant, deeply pleasurable” new poems (Booklist).


A comprehensive selection of one of our most beloved poet’s rich and signifi cant body of work alongside a gathering of “brilliant, deeply pleasurable” new poems (Booklist).

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“The everyday and the otherworldly temper each other in these excellent poems, and American poetry gains new strength as a result.” —The New York Times Book Review
Publishers Weekly
Hirsch, a longtime poetry teacher and now the president of the Guggenheim Foundation, is an accessible and widely beloved poet and advocate for poetry. His work combines a playful, tender sense of humor, awareness of Jewish heritage, love for and identification with Central European and Russian poetry, and an intimate American voice that seeks to elucidate what mysteries it can. This, his first retrospective collection, selects from each of his seven previous collections, published between 1981 and 2008. The early poems attempt to characterize people in terms of and against the everyday world that surrounds them, and the art that depicts that world, as in “Still Life: An Argument”: “the knife/ keeps falling and falling, but never/ falls. That knife could be us.” Middle poems pay homage to and learn from classical culture and world religions: “...I believe the saint:/ Nothing stays the same/ in the shimmering heat.” More recent poems confront aging and family (“My father in the night shuffling from room to room/ is no longer a father or a husband or a son,// but a boy standing on the edge of a forest”), while the newest wonder about the poet’s own mortality, and track love lost and found. Hirsch has many wise things to say; this book is a trove of them. (Mar.)
Library Journal
The poems in this new work span the years from 1981, when Hirsch published his first book, For the Sleepwalkers, to the present (represented by a section of new poems that open the book)—almost 30 years of work. This new volume takes us on a tour of Hirsch's growth and development as a poet. They are one poetic voice piecing together the fragments of a self, (re)considering a life; a psyche on its Jungian journey toward integration, almost rabbinical in its spiritual interrogations. Occasionally, the poems seem to rely on too easy, romanticized endings, but overall the poems, like "Abortion" (Night Parade), are unflinching. Steeped in the language and pictorial vibrancies of the visual arts, Hirsch allows himself to enter and be surrounded by whatever imagination has arranged for him on the mind's canvas. VERDICT Though there are weaker moments, especially when he's working with form (the long new poem built of haikus falls into this category), there are also poems of brilliant strangeness and piercing truths— "Village Idiot" from the middle years and the recent "Last Saturday," when a "new exterminator early, [and] without warning." The voice of the poet in these poems is hard on itself but also tenacious about the possibilities of hope. Highly recommended.—Susan Kelly-DeWitt, Univ. of California, Davis/Sacramento City Coll.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

Read an Excerpt

For the Sleepwalkers

Tonight I want to say something wonderful for the sleepwalkers who have so much faith in their legs, so much faith in the invisible

arrow carved into the carpet, the worn path that leads to the stairs instead of the window,
the gaping doorway instead of the seamless mirror.

I love the way that sleepwalkers are willing to step out of their bodies into the night,
to raise their arms and welcome the darkness,

palming the blank spaces, touching everything.
Always they return home safely, like blind men who know it is morning by feeling shadows.

And always they wake up as themselves again.
That’s why I want to say something astonishing like: Our hearts are leaving our bodies.

Our hearts are thirsty black handkerchiefs flying through the trees at night, soaking up the darkest beams of moonlight, the music

of owls, the motion of wind- torn branches.
And now our hearts are thick black fists flying back to the glove of our chests.

We have to learn to trust our hearts like that.
We have to learn the desperate faith of sleepwalkers who rise out of their calm beds

and walk through the skin of another life.
We have to drink the stupefying cup of darkness and wake up to ourselves, nourished and surprised.

The Poet At Seven

He could be any seven- year-old on the lawn,
holding a baseball in his hand, ready to throw.
He has the middle- class innocence of an American,

except for his blunt features and dark skin that mark him as a Palestinian or a Jew,
his forehead furrowed like a question,

his concentration camp eyes, nervous, grim,
and too intense. He has the typical blood of the exile, the refugee, the victim.

Look at him looking at the catcher for a sign—
so violent and competitive, so unexceptional,
except for an ancestral lamentation,

a shadowy, grief- stricken need for freedom laboring to express itself through him.

M i l k

My mother wouldn’t be cowed into nursing and decided that formula was healthier than the liquid from her breasts.

And so I never sucked a single drop from the source, a river dried up.
It was always bottled for me.

But one night in my mid- thirties in a mirrored room off Highway 59
a woman who had a baby daughter

turned to me with an enigmatic smile and cupped my face in her chapped hands and tipped her nipple into my mouth.

This happened a long time ago in another city and it is wrong to tell about it.
It was infantile to bring it up in therapy.

And yet it is one of those moments—
misplaced, involuntary—that swim up out of the past without a conscience:

She lifts my face and I taste it—
the sudden spurting nectar,
the incurable sweetness that is life.

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“The everyday and the otherworldly temper each other in these excellent poems, and American poetry gains new strength as a result.” —The New York Times Book Review

Meet the Author

Edward Hirsch is the author of seven previous collections of poetry and four prose books. He has received numerous awards for his poetry, including a MacArthur fellowship and the National Book Critics Circle Award, and publishes regularly in a wide variety of magazines and journals. He serves as the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and lives in New York City.

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