Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Review: The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, by Edward Hirsch

The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems
by Edward Hirsch
Alfred A. Knopf
237 pgs.

Move over, Billy Collins.  I have a new (to me) contemporary poet to stand alongside of you as one of my favorites.

He's Edward Hirsch, and while I am sure there are more well-read types who are laughing because I've just discovered him (as if to say, what took you so long?) I'm thrilled that he is a new discovery for me.

I've been trying to read more poetry, and broaden my horizons with those whose work is unfamiliar to me.  So far I think I'm doing considerably well; this is the third poetry collection I've read in 2010 and I have four more checked out from the library (including Edward Hirsch's Lay Down the Darkness).

The library is where I saw this compilation on display on the round table between the circulation desk and the New Books.  I'll admit that the cover drew me in and made me curious. 

Inside are more than 100 poems written by Hirsch, the author of seven poetry collections (all represented here with poems from 1975 to 2010) and four prose books, including How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry.  (That's one that I think I need to read because I am clueless on how to review poetry. I just know what I like, and it helps when the poem makes me feel something or experience something through stanzas that I can understand.) I like my poems fairly straightforward, without much guesswork as to what the true meaning is, and ones that make me see everyday situations and the small moments of life in a bigger or more meaningful way.

Hirsch's poems are, for the most part, exactly that.  There were some that I didn't quite "get," but those were in the very small minority.  He writes of topics many of us are familiar with:  insomnia, popular culture, influential thinkers ("Margaret Fuller"), darkness and light, life and death ("Dawn Walk"), the seasons ("Summer Surprised Us"), infertility ("Infertility"), adoption ("The Welcoming").  As Peter Campion of The New York Times writes in his review of The Living Fire, "Hirsch situates himself between the ordinary and the ecstatic. The everyday and the otherworldly temper each other in these excellent ­poems, and American poetry gains new strength as a result."

And so do people like me (and perhaps you?) who want to read more poetry and expand their literary horizons. I enjoyed The Living Fire immensely and this is one that I think I am going to eventually purchase (I had it in my pile at McNally Jackson Books in New York, but wound up putting it back.) There are so many wonderful lines in Hirsch's poems that I want to keep them and have them to share with others. 

Like this one, titled "Fall," from Hirsch's 1986 collection Wild Gratitude. It's apropos for today, I think, as we welcome autumn on its first day.

Fall, falling, fallen. That's the way the season
Changes its tense in the long-haired maples
That dot the road; the veiny hand-shaped leaves
Redden on their branches (in a fiery competition
With the final remaining cardinals) and then
Begin to sidle and float through the air, at last
Settling into colorful layers carpeting the ground.
At twilight the light, too, is layered in the trees
In a season of odd, dusky congruences‐a scarlet tanager
And the odor of burning leaves, a golden retriever
Loping down the center of a wide street and the sun
Setting behind smoke-filled trees in the distance,
A gap opening up in the treetops and a bruised cloud
Blamelessly filling the space with purples. Everything
Changes and moves in the split second between summer's
Sprawling past and winter's hard revision, one moment
Pulling out of the station according to schedule,
Another moment arriving on the next platform. It
Happens almost like clockwork: the leaves drift away
From their branches and gather slowly at our feet,
Sliding over our ankles, and the season begins moving
Around us even as its colorful weather moves us,
Even as it pulls us into its dusty, twilit pockets.
And every year there is a brief, startling moment
When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and
Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless
Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:
It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;
It is the changing light of fall falling on us.

Along the route of Betty and Boo's elementary school Halloween parade.
October 2009

More on The Living Fire:

Geoffrey Johnson of interviews native son Edward Hirsch about The Living Fire in his "Books We Like" column.

Peter Campion's review in The New York Times.

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

1 comment:

Amy said...

Beautiful poem and beautiful picture. I don't read much poetry but I think I like it more than I think I do :)