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on August 29, 2011
Jane Hirshfield's poems manage to be voluptuous and stoic at the same time. In her latest, she runs out naked in the sun, sells her grandfather's gold watch to be melted down, touches the falling face of an old lover, eats an egg, runs out naked in the rain. But even as she shouts *more* to the sensual world, she knows she will lose, if she hasn't already lost, what she savors. That doesn't stop her from tasting, or yearning, or noticing.

As she moves into her 50s, some of these poems address loss via aging and the deaths of friends -- unless I'm just noticing them more for my own reasons.

Here is her precise image of the fraying mind of a well-educated friend with Alzheimer's: "When a fine old carpet/is eaten by mice/ the colors and patterns/of what's left behind/ do not change."

Here is a short poem in its entirety called


"When hearing went, you spoke more.
A kindness.

Now I must."

She's also a smart thinker. She has been my favorite contemporary poet since I read "For What Binds Us," a declaration of pride in the scars left by love. Reading her subtle, spare, yet quietly ecstatic work sharpens my own thinking and writing. I took this book to bed with me and read poem after poem. Here is an excerpt from one of the last poems in "Come Thief" that seems almost like a bookend to "For What Binds Us."

"A Hand is Shaped for What It Holds or Makes":

....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....

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.

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on September 13, 2011
Jane Hirshfield is a poet without trying. She has a way with words. They say about some, "the camera loves them" but I think words love Jane then. She has a language all her own. She is able to say so simply what I feel unfolding in me with each word. She is able to capture the definition of what it means to be human, the human element, the loss, the sheer cosmic joke of human existence. She's amazing. There was rarely a page in this entire book where I didn't want to slap myself for not having written what she had, and had done so simply and so beautifully. She says in so few words what I can't yet say in this review about her. She is amazing.
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on August 31, 2011
Such an amazing book! Jane Hirshfield has long been my favorite poet for her perspicacity, her habit of long seeing, her ability to pull the string taut so that the poem transforms itself and the reader in the same moment.

This is my new favorite Hirshfield collection. Its hand is sure, its voice mature and magical. You will love this work.
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on October 11, 2011
Jane Hirshfield's latest volume helps further cement her reputation as one of America's best contemporary poets. One notes a slight shift stylistically with these poems: many are shorter in form, from the haiku-like "Pebbles" to "Sentencings", which bring to mind James Richardson's "Aphorisms", as well as a haibun and several other shorter works. But their brevity only intensifies their message and often stunning imagery. Hirshfield dabbles in formal and rhymed poetry here, more so than in previous work: one fine example is her villanelle, "A Hand is Shaped for What It Holds or Makes". Among the longer poems is the delightful "Shadow: An Assay", perhaps a carryover from the "assays" in her previous collection, After. It seems inevitable that maturing poets tackle mortality as a recurring theme; but as expected, Hirshfield handles it eloquently. Among the most moving are two poems, presumably about an ailing friend, "The Pear" and "Alzheimer's". This book is a rich and varied collection of poems on love, death, praise, and the little reflective moments of life. Hirshfield draws us into those moments and transforms them into epiphanies, often employing a startling and unexpected image or metaphor, as in the short poem "Love in August", where a moth at the door is described as "two hands/of a thief//who wants to put/back in your cupboard/the long-taken silver." There is no shortage of subtle humor in these poems, either, as in "Sweater", an ars poetica where she pokes a little fun at herself and her Zen lifestyle: "Irrefusable, the shape the sweater is given,/stretched in the shoulders, sleeves lengthened by unmetaphysical pullings on." This is an exquisite collection, one that you will want to read over and over again.
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on May 28, 2014
On the second reading of this collection of Jane's poetry I gained more appreciation and insight. There are layers to the poems that make this book one I'll reread again.

Some of these poems are idea-based and follow Jane's early training. Others, like 'The Kind Man' and 'Alzheimer's', look more personally at family and friends.

I reread the collection following the order of the Acknowledgements list, which gave different perspectives for some poems and made me aware of how reading order can affect a poem's impact on the reader. Another plus for poets, the long Acknowledgments list of journals where the poems originally were published offers a way of finding journals for poets to submit their own work.
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on October 30, 2013
I confess to being a huge Hirschfield fan, so I would have been disappointed if this weren't first-rate work. It is, and the author has also managed to extend her range and craft. I'm a working, published poet and know how difficult it is to keep improving craft. H."s poems are always about the human condition, and this volume traces our problems through repeating and mirrored imagery. She always looks simple, but she's not. Highly recommended.
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on March 9, 2014
Certainly one of Jane Hirshfield's finest collections---how she shows the everyday to be both evanescent and numinous. How she makes the tragic and comic in our lives from simple words and images.
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on October 2, 2013
My best friend, who has been practicing insight meditation for decades, loved this book of poetry, which I gave her as a birthday gift. I enjoyed reading it, too, before I gifted it!
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on September 2, 2015
She is a great poet, but sometimes a little bit disembodied. Too much "in her head." How about a little more grit and earthiness, Jane?
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on October 3, 2013
Hirshfield invites the reader into her world of insight and contemplation. Her work is always beautiful and moving. I wait for each new book.
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