Special Orders

Special Orders

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by Edward Hirsch
     
 

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In Special Orders, the renowned poet Edward Hirsch brings us a new series of tightly crafted poems, work that demonstrates a thrilling expansion of his tone and subject matter. It is with a mixture of grief and joy that Hirsch examines what he calls “the minor triumphs, the major failures” of his life so far, in lines that reveal a startling

Overview

In Special Orders, the renowned poet Edward Hirsch brings us a new series of tightly crafted poems, work that demonstrates a thrilling expansion of his tone and subject matter. It is with a mixture of grief and joy that Hirsch examines what he calls “the minor triumphs, the major failures” of his life so far, in lines that reveal a startling frankness in the man composing them, a fearlessness in confronting his own internal divisions: “I lived between my heart and my head, / like a married couple who can’t get along,” he writes in “Self-portrait.” These poems constitute a profound, sometimes painful self-examination, by the end of which the poet marvels at the sense of expectancy and transformation he feels. His fifteen-year-old son walking on Broadway is a fledgling about to sail out over the treetops; he has a new love, passionately described in “I Wish I Could Paint You”; he is ready to live, he tells us, “solitary, bittersweet, and utterly free.”
More personal than any of his previous collections, Special Orders is Edward Hirsch’s most significant book to date.

The highway signs pointed to our happiness;
the greasy spoons and gleaming truck stops were the stations of our pilgrimage.

Wasn’t that us staggering past the riverboats,
eating homemade fudge at the county fair and devouring each other’s body?

They come back to me now, delicious love,
the times my sad heart knew a little sweetness.

from “The Sweetness”

Editorial Reviews

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

ISBN-13:
9780307266811
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/11/2008
Pages:
80
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.40(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

1
Who is that moonlit stranger staring at me
through the fog of a bathroom mirror

2
Wrinkles form a parenthesis around the eyes dry wells of sadness at three a.m.

3
The forehead furrows in a scowl a question mark puzzled since childhood

4
Faint scrawl of chickenpox and measles broken asthma nights breathing steam

5
Hair thinning like his grandfather’s all those bald ancestral thoughts

6
The nose a ram’s horn a scroll as long and bumpy as the centuries

7
Greed of a Latvian horse thief surprised by the lights

8
Primitive double chin divided in two a mother and father divorcing

9
Deep red pouches and black bags a life given to sleeplessness

10
Earnest grooves ironic blotches secret scars memories medallions of middle age

11
It would take a Cubist to paint this dark face splitting in three directions

12
Identify these features with rapture and despair one part hilarity two parts grief

Charades

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 six previous collections of poetry, including Wild Gratitude, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has also published four prose books, among them How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, a national best seller. He has received numerous awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship, and publishes regularly in a wide variety of magazines and journals, including The American Poetry Review and The New Yorker. A longtime teacher in the creative writing program at the University of Houston, he is now the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. He lives in New York City.

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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.