Poetry exists as a conversation, between the self and others, between the self and the self, between one time and other times. One of the best things about reading poetry widely and deeply is that eventually your own poetry becomes part of that conversation. You write poems that bearing “the fingerprint” of another poem.
Over the last week, the blog of the Best American Poetry series has featured Brian Boudrey conversing Jane Hirshfield. At the same time, I’ve been re-reading Jane’s new collection Come, Thief. I don’t want to give away too much about it because I’d like to write a full review later this week. I’ve always found Hirshfield’s work complex, even when that complexity is sheathed in a very simple diction. This collection is no different as it weaves topics such as illness, death, ephemeral beauty, as well as a plum tree and deer. Boudrey points out in his interview that Hirshfield is a storytelling poet, to which she responds (in part, I’ve only included a bit):
But one reason for poetry’s existence is that it expands what’s possible to be said, what’s possible to be comprehended, and also expands the ways a person has of doing those things. Stories are part of that, and also the adjective “telling”—that holds some of the intention I think you’re seeing here. A poem wants to tell something telling, wants the telling detail, wants the slip of incident that holds a world. It wants the “tell” in poker: the gesture that reveals more than the player would choose to show, yet can’t quite conceal. You hear a story that feels “telling” in that way, or learn some fact that stays with you, and it waits for its poem the way certain seeds wait for a fire before they can germinate.
Hirshfield’s playful examination of the word tell and all its implications gives you some idea of the depth that each word holds in her work. Boudrey’s interview of her is a little craft talk about diction and line-break and form, as well as intent. Please read the rest of the interview starting here: The Best American Poetry Blog.
And for those of you who haven’t read any of Jane’s work, here’s an amazing villanelle from the collection:
A Hand Is Shaped For What It Holds Or Makes
A hand is shaped for what it holds or makes.
Time takes what’s handed to it then—warm bread, a stone,
a child whose fingers touch the page to keep her place.
Beloved, grown old separately, your face
shows me the changes on my own.
I see the histories it holds, the argument it makes
against the thresh of trees, the racing clouds, the race
of birds and sky birds always lose:
the lines have ranged, but not the cheek’s strong bone.
My fingers touching there recall that place.
Once we were one. Then what time did, and hands, erased
us from the future we had owned.
For some, the future holds what hands release, not make.
We made a bridge. We walked it. Laced
night’s sounds with passion.
Owls’ pennywhistles, after, took our place.
Wasps leave their nest. Wind takes the papery case.
Our wooden house, less easily undone,
now houses others. A life is shaped by what it holds or makes.
I make these words for what they can’t replace.