Until a year or two ago I had never heard of Jane Hirshfield before. But a number of bloggers like, and perhaps even adore, her poetry so I had to give her a try. I love poetry but I am choosey about the kind of poetry I read. If pressed I could probably come up with descriptions of what I like and what I don’t like, but it is much easier to say I know what I like when I read it. While I might be adventurous and try a novel I know nothing about by an author I know nothing about, I seldom do that with poetry. I am not sure why. Maybe it is because poetry has such an intimate feeling to it, so much more emotionally compact than a novel, that I can engage with it only after I have established a certain level of trust that the poet will not screw me over. Whatever the reason, I am a cautious poetry reader. Therefore when a number of people whose reading selections I trust, praise a poet and provide a few excerpts to sample and said excerpts make me go “ah,” then I can confidently embark on a whole book of poems by the author. Such is the case with Hirshfield.
I enjoyed Given Sugar, Given Salt immensely. It is a book filled with “ah” moments; lines, stanzas and entire poems that made me feel them in my stomach. The poems in this book are usually one page, sometimes two. They take for their subject the natural world, life, writing. There is a meditative quality to them that asks the reader to be still and listen deeply and roll the words around in the mouth as the ideas and thoughts roll around in the brain.
One of the poems I especially liked is called “Rock” and here are a few stanzas from its middle:
Rocks fill their own shadows without hesitation,
and do not question silence,
Nor are they discomforted by cold, by rain, by heat.
The work of a rock is to ponder whatever is:
an act that looks singly like prayer,
but it is not prayer.
Here are the opening lines of “Bobcats, Beetles, Owls”
We stood in the dark outside a door
and talked in the scent of jasmine.
I am not sure why I like these lines so much. Maybe because there is a mysteriousness to them and the jasmine adds a sort of exotic quality.
This is from “Poem With Two Endings”
Death is voracious, it swallows all the living.
Life is voracious, it swallows all the dead.
Neither is ever satisfied, neither is ever filled,
each swallows and swallows the world.
The grip of life is as strong as the grip of death.
I liked this poem a lot. It has a sort of yin-yang that is pleasing.
I could go on but there is copyright to think of and you probably have other things to do. One of those things should be to add this book to your TBR list for the next time you are in the mood for poetry.