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Poet's Choice
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Poet's Choice

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by Edward Hirsch

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Edward Hirsch began writing a column in the Washington Post Book World called "Poet's Choice" in 2002. This book brings together those enormously popular columns, some of which have been revised and expanded, to present a minicourse in world poetry; Poet's Choice includes the work of more than 130 poets-from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and America, from


Edward Hirsch began writing a column in the Washington Post Book World called "Poet's Choice" in 2002. This book brings together those enormously popular columns, some of which have been revised and expanded, to present a minicourse in world poetry; Poet's Choice includes the work of more than 130 poets-from Asia and the Middle East to Europe and America, from ancient times to the present-and demonstrates how poetry responds to the challenges of our modern world. Rich, relevant, and inviting, the book reveals how poetry both puts us in touch with ourselves and connects us to each other.

I don't want to go on being a root in the dark,
Insecure, stretched out, shivering with sleep,
Going on down, into the moist guts of the earth,
Taking in and thinking, eating every day.

I don't want so much misery.
I don't want to go on as a root and a tomb,
Alone under the ground, a warehouse with corpses,
Half frozen, dying of grief.
translated by ROBERT BLY

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Hirsch's follow-up to his bestselling, NBCC award-winning How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry collects two years' worth of his engaging weekly essay-lettres from the Washington Post Book World. Such a collection is inevitably a miscellany as it ranges from biographic sketches and personal portraits to topical subjects, reviews of new books and eulogies for the recently deceased. The 20th-century giants Yeats, Rilke and Neruda, who served as touchstones in How to Read a Poem, appear alongside such contemporary Americans as Robert Bly, Denise Levertov, Gary Snyder and Dorothea Tanning, and newcomers from Europe, Mexico, the Middle East and Asia. Hirsch also casts back to ancient traditions, although there's a gap between these and modern poets that is filled only occasionally by the likes of the rediscovered John Clare and Giuseppe Belli. Taking over the column early in 2002, Hirsch writes, he felt the burden of discussing poetry in the cultural climate of post-9/11 America. Old themes of grief and loss gain new weight as Hirsch discusses Wallace Stevens's and Mark Strand's approaches and Tom Sleigh's oblique refashioning of Greek and Sumerian verse in "New York American Spell, 2001." Eclectic and idiosyncratic, Hirsch's choices are unified by astute excerpting and keen commentary. (Apr.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Hirsch, the author of six collections of poetry and three books of prose and winner of several literary awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, comes from a family of Eastern European immigrants. Having grown up surrounded with "the sounds of other people's languages," he instinctively understands the melody, storytelling, and themes in poetry. Originally written as newspaper columns for the Washington Post Book World, the essays collected here (some revised and expanded) exhibit the same knowledge and eclectic taste for poetry that was evident in his best seller, How To Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry. Hirsch includes the work of more than 130 poets from across the globe and across centuries, with poems from the ancients alongside those of the most contemporary of poets creating a pleasurable introduction to poetry. Using an essay form with stanzas embedded, he makes coherent arguments and offers excellent illustrations of how each work and the human experience are intertwined. A mini-course in world poetry, this accessible, learned, and relevant book is highly recommended for all libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 12/05.]-Pam Kingsbury, Univ. of North Alabama, Florence Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Brief, illuminating journalistic pieces on poetry written for the Washington Post Book World over the last several years by poet and critic Hirsch (The Demon and the Angel, 2001, etc.). For Hirsch, poetry is a conversation: with other poets, with history, with language, with cultures in restless movement. It puts us in touch with our daily doses of suffering, disaffection and alienation, as he notes in the introduction. Most helpfully, these short essays elucidate the life and work of poets little known, and translated with difficulty: e.g., from the German (Ernst Stadler, Nelly Sachs), Russian (Marina Tsvetaeva, Velimir Khlebnikov), Japanese (Ishikawa Takuboku), Serbian (Radmila Lazic), Slovenian (Edvard Kocbek), Hebrew (Aharon Shabtai, Yehuda Amichai) and Arabic (Palestinian Taha Muhammad Ali). Most comprehensively, they delve into Spanish-language poetry, including work by the author's favorites, Pablo Neruda, Miguel Hernandez and Cesar Vallejo (whose compassionate voice holds particular relevance; Hirsch calls the Peruvian "a prophet pleading for social justice"). The collection sheds light on American poets who deserve more readers, such as the solitary George Oppen, and English poets obscure on these shores, such as John Clare and Charlotte Mew. Each of the essays contains excerpts from the poetry in question, although overall the selections are much too short to be satisfying. Some chapters present a theme, such as "The Poet as Mother" or "Sleep and Poetry" or "Baseball," which all seem hasty and slapdash. Most of the final essays are paeans to contemporaries and friends. Slim and scattered, but tasty, even exotic: a good supplement to Camille Paglia's Break, Blow, Burn (2004),which delves more robustly into English-language poetry, and to Michael Schmidt's scholarly The First Poets (2005), which treats the Greeks.
From the Publisher

"In short, reading Hirsch's How to Read a Poem is like a very long evening with a learned and perceptive friend who keeps leaping to his bookshelf for more and better illustrations, and finding ever more connections and revelations."-NEWSDAY

"A lovely book, full of joy and wisdom."-THE BALTIMORE SUN

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

Poet's Choice

By Hirsch, Edward


Copyright © 2006 Hirsch, Edward
All right reserved.

ISBN: 015101356X


spring's messenger, the lovelyvoiced ­nightingale


I wish I'd been on the street in Madrid on that night in 1934 when Pablo Neruda, who was then Chile's consul to Spain, told Miguel Hernandez that he had never heard a nightingale. It is too cold for nightingales to survive in Chile. Hernandez grew up in a goatherding family in the province of Alicante, and he immediately scampered up a high tree and imitated a nightingale's liquid song. Then he climbed up another tree and created the sound of a second nightingale answering. He could have been joyously illustrating Boris Pasternak's notion of poetry as "two nightingales ­dueling."

I once told this story to the writer William Maxwell, and he said that learning how to sing like nightingales in treetops ought to be a requirement for poets. It should be taught, like prosody, in writing programs. The Romantic poets might have agreed: Wordsworth called the nightingale a creature of "fiery heart"; Keats inscribed its music forever in his famous ode ("Thou wast not born for death, immortal bird!"); John Clare observed one assiduously as a boy ("she is a plain bird something like the hedge sparrow in shape and the female Firetail or Redstart in color but more slender then the former and of a redder brownor scorched color then the latter"); and Shelley ­declared:

A poet is a nightingale, who sits in darkness and sings to cheer its ­own solitude with sweet sounds; his auditors are as men entranced by the ­melody of an unseen musician, who feel that they are moved and softened, ­yet know not whence or ­why.

The singing of a nightingale becomes a metaphor for writing poetry here, and listening to that bird--that natural music--becomes a meta­­phor for reading ­it.

One could write a good book about nightingales in poetry. It would begin with one of the oldest legends in the world, the poignant tale of Philomela, that poor ravished girl who had her tongue cut out and was changed into the nightingale, which laments in darkness but nonetheless expresses its story. The tale reverberates through all of Greco­-­Roman literature. Ovid gave it a poignant rendering in Metamorphoses, and it echoed down the centuries from Shakespeare (Titus Andronicus) to Matthew Arnold ("Philomela") and T. S. Eliot ("The Waste ­Land").

One of my favorite poems about "spring's messenger" is by Jorge Luis Borges, the Argentine fabulist, who may never have heard a nightingale, and yet, through poetry, had a lifelong relationship with the unseen ­bird.

To the Nightingale

Out of what secret English summer ­evening

or night on the incalculable ­Rhine,

lost among all the nights of my long ­night,

could it have come to my unknowing ­ear,

your song, encrusted with ­mythology,

nightingale of Virgil and the ­Persians?

Perhaps I never heard you, but my ­life

is bound up with your life, ­inseparably.
"MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt; tab-stops: 24.0pt"
The symbol for you was a wandering ­spirit

in a book of enigmas. The poet, El ­Marino,

nicknamed you the "siren of the ­forest";

you sing throughout the night of ­Juliet

and through the intricate pages of the ­Latin

and from his pinewoods, Heine, that ­other

nightingale of Germany and ­Judea,

called you mockingbird, firebird, bird of ­mourning.

Keats heard your song for everyone, ­forever.

There is not one among the shimmering ­names

people have given you across the ­earth

that does not seek to match your own ­music,

nightingale of the dark. The Muslim dreamed ­you
nt-family: 'Times New Roman'"
in the delirium of ­ecstasy,

his breast pierced by the thorn of the sung ­rose

you redden with your blood. ­Assiduously

in the black evening I contrive this ­poem,

nightingale of the sands and all the ­seas,

that in exultation, memory, and ­fable,

you burn with love and die in liquid ­song.

(translated by Alastair Reid)

Copyright 2006 by Edward Hirsch

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Excerpted from Poet's Choice by Hirsch, Edward Copyright © 2006 by Hirsch, Edward. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author

EDWARD HIRSCH is a celebrated poet and peerless advocate for poetry. A MacArthur fellow, he has published nine books of poems and five books of prose. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Rome Prize, a Pablo Neruda Presidential Medal of Honor, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature. He serves as president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and lives in Brooklyn.

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Poet's Choice 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Genteach More than 1 year ago
If so, then read Edward Hirsch's POET'S CHOICE. This book is to be read in small installments. It will provide more than food for thought; it will delight you and expand your humanity. When you are finished, start all over again. You will visit a multi-cultural world and be the better for the experience. This is a must read time and time again. When you peruse it, you will see what I mean.