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After: Poems Paperback – February 20, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Serious, prayerful and governed by quietly sweeping abstract lines, Hirshfield's sixth collection of verse continues the meditative direction established in 2001's well-received Given Sugar, Given Salt. She subtitles many poems "an assay," meaning both a try and an exposition: the sky, the words "of " and "to" and the writings of Edgar Allan Poe all become such discursive test cases. Some assays are prose poems, a form that balances out Hirshfield's tropism toward restrained wonder. The tone overall, however, inclines decisively toward sadness and grief: the poet aspires "to live amid the great vanishing a cat must live,/ one shadow fully at ease inside another." Hirshfield brings a plainspoken American spirituality (think of Mary Oliver or Robert Bly) to bear on her interest in East Asian practice: a set of quite short (one to five lines) lyric efforts, under the collective title "Seventeen Pebbles," pares Hirshfield's sensibility to a Zen concision. A longer Japanese-influenced poem concludes, "slowness alone is not to be confused/ with the scent of the plum tree just before it opens." Clarification makes for consolation in this gentle and very unified book. (Feb.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* A number of the finely measured and carefully weighted poems in Hirshfield's stirring new collection carry the subtitle "An Assay," meaning a trial or attempt, a study of characteristics, an analysis to determine the presence or absence of certain components. This is precisely what Hirshfield performs in poems constructed as cleverly and economically as riddles as she ponders the nature of hope, envy, certainty, and possibility. Intrigued with language's concealments and revelations, she has also crafted a series of provocative poems about how ordinary words--of, and, to, once--embody the workings of our minds. Keenly aware that there is much in the universe we're unable to detect and that we have little control over our fate, Hirshfield considers amplitude and chance in poems of exquisite restraint and meticulous reasoning, including a striking meditation on the paradoxical richness of spareness that can serve as her ars poetica. But these poems are not abstractions, they abound in earthly wonders: animals and leaves, rivers and snow, sky and rust. Hirshfield even calls her short poems "pebbles," and, indeed, they send ripples across the reflecting pool of our collective consciousness. Donna Seaman
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; reprint edition (February 20, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060779195
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060779191
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #190,813 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jane Hirshfield is the author of eight collections of poetry, including the newly released THE BEAUTY (Knopf, 2015),COME, THIEF (Knopf, 2011), AFTER (HarperCollins, 2006), which was named a "Best Book of 2006" by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and England's Financial Times, and a finalist for England's prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize; GIVEN SUGAR, GIVEN SALT (finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award), THE LIVES OF THE HEART, THE OCTOBER PALACE, and OF GRAVITY & ANGELS, as well as a now-classic book of essays, NINE GATES: ENTERING THE MIND OF POETRY and the newly released TEN WINDOWS: HOW GREAT POEMS TRANSFORM THE WORLD (Knopf, 2015). She is also the author of THE HEART OF HAIKU, an Amazon Kindle Single exploring the essence of haiku and its 17th-century founding poet, Matsuo Basho, which was named a "Best Kindle Single" and an "Amazon Best Book of 2011."

Hirshfield has additionally edited and co-translated three books collecting the work of poets from the past: THE INK DARK MOON: Love Poems by Komachi & Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Court of Japan, WOMEN IN PRAISE OF THE SACRED: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women, and, with Robert Bly, MIRABAI: ECSTATIC POEMS.

Hirshfield's other honors include The Poetry Center Book Award; fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets; Columbia University's Translation Center Award; and the Commonwealth Club of California's California Book Award. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Nation, Harper's The American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Paris Review, McSweeney's, Orion, eight volumes of The Best American Poetry (including the 25th anniversary Best of the Best American Poetry volume), and many other publications. Her work has been featured numerous times on Garrison Keillor's Writers Almanac program, and she appears in two Bill Moyers PBS television specials. In fall 2004, Jane Hirshfield was awarded the 70th Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by The Academy of American Poets, an honor formerly held by such poets as Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop. In 2012, she was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, and also named the third recipient of the Donald Hall--Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry.

Hirshfield's work has been called "passionate and radiant" by the New York Times Book Review, and described by the San Francisco Chronicle as evidencing "the grasp of a master" and "filled with somber, judiciously lit treasures." A starred review in Booklist describes "poems of exquisite restraint and meticulous reasoning," while a British magazine, Agenda, states, "The poems' realized ambition is wisdom." The Washington Post describes Hirshfield as taking her place in the "pantheon of modern masters." Never a full-time academic, Hirshfield has been a visiting professor at UC Berkeley and elsewhere, a member of the Bennington College MFA faculty, and has appeared widely at writers conferences, literary centers, and festivals both in this country and abroad. Her books have appeared on bestseller lists in San Francisco, Detroit, Canberra, and Krakow.

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953 and was a member of the first graduating class at Princeton University to include women. After graduating, she did a year of farm labor in New Jersey before travelling, slowly, west in a Dodge van with tie-dyed curtains. She studied Soto Zen intensively for eight years, including three in monastic practice at Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in the wilderness inland from Big Sur, and received lay ordination in 1979. She has cooked at Greens Restaurant in San Francisco, driven 18-wheel truck, worked as the independent editor of several books that have sold in the millions, and spent four years living without electricity. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area in a small white house surrounded by fruit trees, a vegetable garden, lavender, and roses.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Jennifer Haynes on March 22, 2007
Format: Paperback
In Jane Hirshfield's sixth book of poetry entitled, "After," she is interested or invested in the use of words and their function in life and what they have to teach. The theme of this contemporary woman poet seems to dwell in her poem called "To Speech," "What lives in words is what words were needed to learn." After the poet has mastered the use of language, only then can it be manipulated into the truth. She is conscious of words associated with self awareness, namely: judgment, grief, theology, hope, articulation, possibility, speech, and she even grasps the concept of some of the most insignificant and magnificent words such as `to', `and', or `of.' It is important to mention the white space in between the words; Many of her words are short, concise, delicious, and function to be uttered and reclaimed. Among them include Hirshfield's first poem in her book, "After Long Silence" which seems to be a declaration of the very thing which she feels most important to convey to the reader of her poems: "The untranslatable thought must be the most precise/ Yet words are not the end of thought, they are where it begins."

Hirshfield's poetry is like a walk through the awakening of ignorance, you are not sure what to expect, but once you have completed your journey you are never the same. Along the way Hirshfield uses sounds, symbols, elegies, personifiers, metaphors, and assays to convey her thoughts. Maya Angelou, a great poet in her own right once said, "I've gone from being ignorant of being ignorant to being aware of being aware." Angelou and Hirshfield both require that the importance of being aware of words is one's own responsibility.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Una on May 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
These poems are astounding. Jane Hirshfield is succinct, I could hear the words slicing off her pen and onto the paper. She doesn't waste breath. If her poetry were to be labelled in Taoist terms it would be the Philosophical School of Tao, using her energy in the most efficient ways she can think or dream up. I read these with my head tilted and my mouth agape, she dissects language so thoroughly and with such compassion that the words and letters practically take on human qualities. I didn't put this book down until I was finished. You won't either.
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18 of 23 people found the following review helpful By M. Bashista on March 13, 2006
Format: Hardcover
I have anticipated the release of Jane's latest work as she had read some of the poems at her workshops at the Tassajara Zen Center. I am not disappointed.

The last line in the opening poem summarizes and also hints at the poetry to follow. "Yet words are not the end of thought, they are where it begins."

And Jane, in a recent reading, admitted that these poems do leave lines unended, thoughts unfinished.

And for this reader, that is a good reason to return to certain poems; to begin again, to see anew.


Santa Cruz, CA
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By G. D. Geiss on February 13, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In truth, it is difficult for the amateur (and sometimes it seems even for the professional) reviewer to say much else about a collection of poems but, "I loved them" or "I hated them". Poetry that produces neither love nor hate is probably poetry you should not attempt to review...luke warm soup? No thanks!

Anyway, I loved these poems. I used soup above advisedly. You will find more than a couple references in these poems to soup, and, it seems to me, that when a poet repeats images/objects you might want to be alert that, for instance here, soup may be somewhat more than veggies and broth. Along similar lines, Ms Hirshfield will introduce you here to a variety of dogs: real, imagined, past, present, dream, rose-quartz colored, and at least once (in a title) metaphoric. Ms. Hirshfield has written lovingly in "Nine Gates" (her marvelous set of poetic essays on poetry) about James Wright's "messenger angels". It seems, perhaps, that her dogs are sometimes cast in this role in this collection. You might watch/listen for them.

More than one observer has noted the sheen of sadness that overlays much of "After". I think sometimes that the "zen-ness" of these poems leans them in that direction. I'll leave it to more qualified/knowledgeable reviewers to deal properly with that, but it does seem that zen can tend toward the somber. Then, too, it could just be that Ms. Hirshfield is particularly attuned to the bitter-sweetness that life doles out whether we want it or not. Her (along with Mariko Aratani) surpassingly, inexhaustibly wonderful translations of the tanka of the Heian era poets Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu ("The Ink Dark Moon") are full to overflowing with the ineffable transcience of love and life.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on February 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
Jane Hirshfield, After (Harper Collins, 2006)

Jane Hirshfield's Given Sugar, Given Salt, which I read in January, is on my list of the best books I read in 2008. While After didn't have quite the effect on me her previous book did, this one is still capable of packing the wallop that makes Jane Hirshfield's poems so well worth your time;

"As Issa changed, writing after the death of his daughter,

This world of dew
is a world of dew.
And yet.

How much of you
was left uninvited into those lines.
That silence your shadow, bringing his grieving to me."
("To Speech")

There's a reason Issa resonates with Hirshfield, and this poem does a lot to illustrate what it is about Hirshfield's writing that makes it so intriguing and so powerful at the same time (it's that negative capability thing Keats went on about, it is). The language is plain, but there is a great deal running beneath it; much of the best poetry is thus, and Hirshfield does it with flair. Very good stuff, this. ****
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