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Special Orders: Poems Hardcover – March 11, 2008

4.7 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This seventh from the popular Hirsch (Lay Back the Darkness) brings its demotic, heartfelt, autobiographical pieces together to form a picture of Hirsch's whole life, with sadness always visible, but joy in the foreground. He begins with his immigrant grandfather,/ an old man from the Old World; remembers the second-story warehouse where the young poet filled orders for the factory downstairs; and moves on to his own life as a struggling, and then a successful, writer, teacher and father. Jewish and Yiddish heritage, in memory and on canvas (Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall) pervades the first half of the volume—Gone are the towns where the shoemaker was a poet,/ the watchmaker a philosopher, the barber a troubadour. The second half follows Hirsch as an adult, to Houston (where he taught for many years) and back to New York City, where he now heads the Guggenheim Foundation. Closing poems present a passionate new love affair: I wish I could paint you,/ your lanky body, lithe, coltish, direct. No one will question Hirsch's sincerity nor his commitment to lyric tradition. Many will be moved by the frankness and vulnerability of these difficult self-assessments: I'm now more than halfway to the grave/ but I'm not half the man I meant to become. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* One might expect that the more adept and practiced the poet, the more intricate and elaborate the poems, yet the opposite often occurs as the poet seeks the essence of the matter at hand. In his seventh collection, Hirsch, who so ardently shares his knowledge of poetry as an essayist, editor, and critic, continues to inlay his radiant poems with intriguing literary, mythological, and historical allusions. Yet he never fails to be clear and emotionally present, and in his newest, masterfully distilled poems, he achieves even greater degrees of immediacy and intimacy. A poet of conscience, Hirsch mourns for the lost Jewish villages of Poland. Deeply responsive to art, he writes with dramatic intensity about the paintings of Soutine. Hirsch’s striking tributes to his late father, who worked for a box and paper company, are working-class elegies built to measure with dignity and strength. His self-portraits are witty and wistful, whether he is capturing quicksilver youth in “Branch Library” with its “birdy boy” perching and pecking among the books or, in unsparing and cathartic poems of midlife, tallying the inevitable accruing of regrets and wrenching change. Hirsch trusts language’s power to illuminate and heal, and his achingly beautiful poems do nothing less. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (March 11, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307266818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307266811
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,424,385 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Richard Kirschner on May 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
I found this beautiful collection of poems deeply moving, and curiously comforting. I believe anyone growing older and regretting missed opportunities, and missed friends and family, will appreciate the simplicity and skill of these poems. NOT a book of poems about Death, but a clear demonstration of the value of remembering and observing things going on around us. A sensitive gift for yourself and your best friends.
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Format: Hardcover
With hard work and luck, every once in a while an artist may be struck by the kind of creative lightning that results in a breakthrough work, which is at once startlingly new and large, even while retaining the artist's distinctive and recognizable voice. Edward Hirsch's new book, Special Orders, is such a work.

In broad outlines, the poems in Special Orders recount a man's paralyzing crisis of spirit brought on by a life deeply lived and considered, yet unfulfilled. From this point of crisis, the poet leads us on a journey through a dark land of confusion and self-loathing, until - redeemed by love - we arrive at a new place of enlightened and exuberant optimism. Hirsch's art makes the crisis feel real, the journey persuasive, and the enlightenment earned.

What is new and remarkable about Special Orders is its deeply personal story, and the stripped down and urgent language with which Hirsch tells it. Along the way from crisis to exultation, the poems in Special Orders reveal the artist adapting his powers to a new challenge. Mr. Hirsch has always won praise for his mastery of poetic technique and form, and for his ability to inhabit a wide range of personae. But in Special Orders, he stands naked in his own skin, and speaks in the voice of an American everyman. And yet, through the new poems, there are the trademarks of what make Hirsch a distinctive and important artist - the richness of metaphor, the breadth of learning and inquiry, the sheer intellectual and artistic daring.

This is a poet at the top of his game.
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Format: Hardcover
Edward Hirsch, a longtime teacher of creative writing at the University of Houston, was recently interviewed on NPR on the occasion of the publication of his recent book of poetry, Special Orders. While all poems in a volume of poetry are rarely of equal attraction to a reader, this slim collection comes close. Dealing with the issue of loss in its many expressions and origins, this is, nevertheless, not a depressing collection. It is more a book of gentle sadness and retrospection, rather than unremitting and savage pain, in confronting issues we all eventually must address. Especially evocative, the opening poems, Special Orders and Cotton Candy, vividly paint sensory images of long past and cherished moments that we all can touch a personal version of in memory. Self-Portrait and A Few Encounters with My Face are strong and express well the sad confusion of standing in the bathroom at 3 a.m. and wondering "Who is that moonlit stranger staring at me through the fog of a bathroom mirror." Recommended.
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Format: Paperback
I have read his stuff for over 20 years and it always hits home. The beauty is that you see Hirsch in all stages of life:child, young man, and now creeping beyond middle life, "I'm now more than halfway to the grave/but I'm not half the man I meant to become." The reflections on his father are only the type of reflections that come from the perspective of age and are deeply moving. A sadness permeates the collection. I wish there were a few more poems of hope and adaptation---another "Memorandums of my Affection." But no matter. He shows us the universal through his life. Worthwhile.
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