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The Beauty
     

The Beauty

by Jane Hirshfield
 

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The Beauty, an incandescent new collection from one of  American poetry’s most distinctive and essential voices, opens with a series of dappled, ranging “My” poems—“My Skeleton,” “My Corkboard,” “My Species,” “My Weather”—using materials sometimes familiar, sometimes

Overview

The Beauty, an incandescent new collection from one of  American poetry’s most distinctive and essential voices, opens with a series of dappled, ranging “My” poems—“My Skeleton,” “My Corkboard,” “My Species,” “My Weather”—using materials sometimes familiar, sometimes unexpected, to explore the magnitude, singularity, and permeability of our shared existence. With a pen faithful to the actual yet dipped at times in the ink of the surreal, Hirshfield considers the inner and outer worlds we live in yet are not confined by; reflecting on advice given her long ago—to avoid the word “or”—she concludes, “Now I too am sixty. / There was no other life.” Hirshfield’s lines cut, as always, directly to the heart of human experience. Her robust affirmation of choice even amid inevitability, her tender consciousness of the unjudging beauty of what exists, her abiding contemplation of our moral, societal, and biological intertwinings, sustain poems that tune and retune the keys of a life. For this poet, “Zero Plus Anything Is a World.” Hirshfield’s riddling recipes for that world (“add salt to hunger”; “add time to trees”) offer a profoundly altered understanding of our lives’ losses and additions, and of the small and larger beauties we so often miss. 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 01/19/2015
Hirshfield (Come, Thief) opens her beautiful eighth book of poems describing the copper bowls of a scale in perfect balance: on one end of the scales a woman in a wheelchair sings a traditional Portuguese fado, on the other end everyone else present hangs in attention. This moment, one that expresses the internal vastness of the individual, bleeds into the rest of the collection as Hirshfield seeks the idea of balance. In a collection where “an hour can be dropped like a glass,” the pieces are seen by the reader as a new whole. “The ideas of poets turn into only themselves,” she notes, and those ideas are both the most important and the least. She uses the quotidian to peer into the life cycle. When she writes, “Now I too am sixty./ There was no other life,” it is as if the whole world had reached that milestone before her and she is somehow the last to see it through. The book pleads with itself to remember the past; the moments where days drifted by and doors could open or close. It pleads not to be forgotten. If Hirshfield’s previous work could be accused of lacking duende, this one surely cannot; it is a book of late-midlife koans that finally only want one thing, for “fate to be human.” (Mar.)
From the Publisher
“Gracefully evocative … [Hirshfield’s] pithy and disarming lyrics have a touch of Dickinson about them as she sets human dilemmas within nature’s perpetual surge...[her] contemplative acuity, erudite imagination, and exceptional fluency in image and language make for a beautifully agile and sage volume.”— Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
 
“An exquisite collection that displays her talents of observation and her willingness to look at life through the lens of hindsight.” —Anisse Gross, The San Francisco Gate
 
“Hirshfield’s new poems emerge as fiercely strong yet tender, drawing on supple intuition and clarifying intelligence to evoke the richness of her authentic inner life. Hirshfield sees beyond self, perceiving fresh perspectives flowing through our permeability and interconnection.” —Robert Bonazzi, World Literature Today
 
The Beauty composes the ordinary fruit, in the ordinary kitchen, the ants, the towels, the hopes, the loss, the way we humans believe and lose faith, all of it contained in the hours of every single ordinary day, and renders it beautiful, noticeable.” —Kirsten Rian, The Oregonian

"Throughout The Beauty, her gracefully evocative eighth book of poems, Hirshfield is archly witty and riddling. In “My Skeleton,” for example, she offers a fresh and startling look at our relationship with our bodies, a subject rooted in her fascination with perception, science, and underlying structures of all kinds. Her succinct and arresting observations—often framed within such everyday moments as waking in the morning and sitting in a kitchen, and inspired by the subtle wonders of honey, cellophane, church bells, even the journey of a common cold—swerve suddenly and exhilaratingly onto metaphysical terrain. Her pithy and disarming lyrics have a touch of Dickinson about them as she sets human dilemmas within nature’s perpetual surge: “Generation. / Strange word: both making and passing.” Hirshfield’s contemplative acuity, erudite imagination, and exceptional fluency in image and language make for a beautifully agile and sage volume."
— Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

"The Beauty, Jane Hirshfield's eighth collection, reveals a poet at the height of her powers. With her signature use of deceptively simple images and language, she hints at the unspoken truths that lie just beyond our perspective while celebrating the everyday details and connections that make a life. . . While many of these poems are brief, they are masterpieces in miniature. Their images are simple but not obvious; they are offered without judgment. They also reward contemplation. Hirshfield asks her readers to wait for their own reactions, suggesting that those reactions matter because they open the door to the poem's meaning, and because they unite us all. --Jeanette Zwart, Shelf Awareness

A Publishers Weekly Pick of the Week

Library Journal
03/15/2015
As Hirshfield says in "A Cottony Fate," which contemplates the possibility of options, "Now I too am sixty./ There was no other life," and throughout this new collection (after Come, Thief) there's a sureness that leads her to title another poem "I Cast My Hook, I Decide To Make Peace." Hirshfield's poems always have a sense of immediacy, observing the world closely ("Rain fell as a glass/ breaks"), and here she carefully observes herself; the book opens with a series of fine poems addressing her skeleton ("each year/ imperceptibly smaller"), her proteins ("A body it seems is a highway"), her memory ("almost weightless/ this morning inside me"), and more. She's serenely aware of human limitations ("Dogs pity our noses") and equally aware that our grand sense of achievement is so much dust ("Without philosophy/ tragedy/ history,// a gray squirrel/ looks/ very busy"). As she usefully points out, it's helpful to understand that "The well runs out of thirst,/ the way time runs out a week,/ the way a country runs out of its alphabet/ or a tree runs out of its height." VERDICT These open, approachable poems offer insights that ring true for anyone who's lived a little; they will appeal to a wide range of readers.—Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780385351072
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/17/2015
Pages:
128
Sales rank:
520,741
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 9.20(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Beauty

Poems


By Jane Hirshfield

Random House LLC

Copyright © 2015 Jane Hirshfield
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-385-35107-2


CHAPTER 1

    My Eyes

    An hour is not a house,
    a life is not a house,
    you do not go through them as if
    they were doors to another.

    Yet an hour can have shape and proportion,
    four walls, a ceiling.
    An hour can be dropped like a glass.

    Some want quiet as others want bread.
    Some want sleep.

    My eyes went
    to the window, as a cat or dog left alone does.


    I Wake Early

    I wake early,
    make two cups of coffee,
    drink one,
    think, go back to sleep,
    wake again, think,
    drink the other.

    To start a day over
    is a card game played for no money,
    a ripe tomato,
    a swimming cat.

    Time here:
    lukewarm,
    with milk and sugar,
    big and unset as a table.

    I wake twice.

    Twice the window
    unbroken, transparent.

    Twice the cat's nose and ears above water.
    Twice the war (my war)
    is distant,
    its children's children are distant.


    Zero Plus Anything Is a World

    Four less one is three.

    Three less two is one.

    One less three
    is what, is who,
    remains.

    The first cell that learned to divide
    learned to subtract.

    Recipe:
    add salt to hunger.

    Recipe:
    add time to trees.

    Zero plus anything
    is a world.

    This one
    and no other,
    unhidden,
    by each breath changed.

    Recipe:
    add death to life.

    Recipe:
    love without swerve what this will bring.

    Sister, father, mother, husband, daughter.

    Like a cello
    forgiving one note as it goes,
    then another.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from The Beauty by Jane Hirshfield. Copyright © 2015 Jane Hirshfield. Excerpted by permission of Random House LLC, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

JANE HIRSHFIELD is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Beauty; Come, Thief; After; and Given Sugar, Given Salt. She has edited and cotranslated four books presenting the work of poets from the past and is the author of two major collections of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. Her books have been finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award and England’s T. S. Eliot Prize; they have been named best books of the year by The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Amazon, and Financial Times; and they have won the California Book Award, the Poetry Center Book Award, and the Donald Hall–Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. Hirshfield has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. Her poems have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times Literary Supplement, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, Poetry, Orion, Discover, The American Poetry Review, McSweeney’s, the Pushcart Prize anthologyand eight editions of The Best American Poetry. A resident of Northern California since 1974, she is a current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

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