Special Orders: Poems

Special Orders: Poems

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by Edward Hirsch

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In these powerful and “achingly beautiful” (Booklist) poems of self-examination and openness from one of the cornerstones of the poetry world, Edward Hirsch assesses “the minor triumphs, the major failures” of his life, and the people and places that have colored it.


In these powerful and “achingly beautiful” (Booklist) poems of self-examination and openness from one of the cornerstones of the poetry world, Edward Hirsch assesses “the minor triumphs, the major failures” of his life, and the people and places that have colored it.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Hirsch summons the past and holds it like a stone in his palm . . . It is possibly the most triumphant kind of mourning, that which holds that things gone by are not lost, only transformed.” —The Pedestal Magazine (online)

“A chronicle of the triumphs and failings of life . . . supersaturated with his delightful, instructive allusions to the greats of yore.” —New York

Publishers Weekly

This seventh from the popular Hirsch (Lay Back the Darkness) brings its demotic, heartfelt, autobiographical pieces together to form a picture of Hirsch's whole life, with sadness always visible, but joy in the foreground. He begins with his immigrant "grandfather,/ an old man from the Old World"; remembers "the second-story warehouse" where the young poet "filled orders for the factory downstairs"; and moves on to his own life as a struggling, and then a successful, writer, teacher and father. Jewish and Yiddish heritage, in memory and on canvas (Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall) pervades the first half of the volume-"Gone are the towns where the shoemaker was a poet,/ the watchmaker a philosopher, the barber a troubadour." The second half follows Hirsch as an adult, to Houston (where he taught for many years) and back to New York City, where he now heads the Guggenheim Foundation. Closing poems present a passionate new love affair: "I wish I could paint you,/ your lanky body, lithe, coltish, direct." No one will question Hirsch's sincerity nor his commitment to lyric tradition. Many will be moved by the frankness and vulnerability of these difficult self-assessments: "I'm now more than halfway to the grave/ but I'm not half the man I meant to become." (Mar.)

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Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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Product dimensions:
5.70(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Branch Library

I wish I could find that skinny, long-beaked boy who perched in the branches of the old branch library.

He spent the Sabbath flying between the wobbly stacks and the flimsy wooden tables on the second floor,

pecking at nuts, nesting in broken spines, scratching notes under his own corner patch of sky.

I'd give anything to find that birdy boy again bursting out into the dusky blue afternoon

with his satchel of scrawls and scribbles,
radiating heat, singing with joy.

A Few Encounters With My Face

Who is that moonlit stranger staring at me
through the fog of a bathroom mirror

Wrinkles form a parenthesis around the eyes dry wells of sadness at three a.m.

The forehead furrows in a scowl a question mark puzzled since childhood

Faint scrawl of chickenpox and measles broken asthma nights breathing steam

Hair thinning like his grandfather’s all those bald ancestral thoughts

The nose a ram’s horn a scroll as long and bumpy as the centuries

Greed of a Latvian horse thief surprised by the lights

Primitive double chin divided in two a mother and father divorcing

Deep red pouches and black bags a life given to sleeplessness

Earnest grooves ironic blotches secret scars memories medallions of middle age

It would take a Cubist to paint this dark face splitting in three directions

Identify these features with rapture and despair one part hilarity two parts grief


We waited on two sides of the subway tracks:
you were riding uptown and I was heading downtown to a different apartment, after all these years.

We were almost paralyzed, as anxious travelers surged around us in waves,
and then you started to pantomime.

First, you touched your right eye.
Then you palmed your left knee.
Finally, you pointed at me.

I made of a sign of understanding back to you but the train suddenly roared into the station and you disappeared.

Meet the Author

Edward Hirsch is the author of seven previous collections of poetry. He has received numerous awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship and a National Book Critics Circle Award, and publishes regularly in journals such as American Poetry Review and The New Yorker. A longtime teacher in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston, he is now president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

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Special Orders 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Edward Hirsch is a master a capturing the feeling of a moment. I loved the poem 'Cotton Candy' I have shared it with others and even read it last night at a reading of poetry for poets to share their own as well as favorite poets. I look forward to the day when he will be our poet laureate.