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Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World Hardcover – March 17, 2015
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“Probing and insightful…deeply illuminating…This brilliant collection [asks], ‘How do poems—how does art—work?’ Hirshfield’s original excursions take no shortcuts, subtly integrating image, statement, experience, and understanding.” —World Literature Today
“One of our finest poets [and] best essayists on the act of writing and the art of poetry…She speaks to the largest audience of poetry lovers...Windows are thrown open to a vision of poetry from the inside looking out.” —New York Journal of Books
“In 20 or 30 years, this book may be remembered as one of the great common-readers on the pleasures of poetry . . . . [Hirshfield’s] approach to poetry is exhilarating. Reading her is reminiscent of the joy found among the insights and illuminations of Hugh Kenner’s best work . . . . This thrilling work of immense value is truly an important book on one of the most important subjects: poetry. However, like a strong drink (or a great poem) it probably isn’t to be taken in a single gulp. It may even seem a little intoxicating, but drink.”—Library Journal, starred review
"With precision and passion, Hirshfield elucidates poetry’s “musical shapeliness,” “creative intention,” embrace of uncertainty, and how poetry engenders a profound “unlatching.” She draws stirring examples from Shakespeare, Hopkins, Whitman, Auden, Bishop, Milosz, Brooks, and Komunyakaa and illuminates the power of haiku in her affecting in-depth profile of the Japanese poet Bash. Hirshfield writes brilliantly of paradox in poetry, of what poets and stand-up comics have in common, and how poetry “counters isolation and meaninglessness.” The profound pleasure Hirshfield takes in delineating poetry’s efficacy makes for a beautifully enlightening volume. —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
About the Author
JANE HIRSHFIELD is the author of eight books of poetry, including The Beauty; Come, Thief; After; and Given Sugar, Given Salt. She has edited and cotranslated four books presenting the work of poets from the past and is the author of two major collections of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. Her books have been finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award and England’s T. S. Eliot Prize; they have been named best books of the year by The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Amazon, and Financial Times; and they have won the California Book Award, the Poetry Center Book Award, and the Donald Hall–Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. Hirshfield has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets. Her poems appear in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times Literary Supplement, Poetry, The New Republic, and eight editions of The Best American Poetry. A resident of Northern California since 1974, she is a current chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
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That’s why I’m in awe of Jane’s ability to pack such powerful, original, and creative analysis into such lucid prose. No high-school English teacher should start another term without digesting TEN WINDOWS. On the other hand, I doubt most college English professors would dare mention the book, lest students force them to re-cast their own lectures to accommodate Hirshfield’s exhilarating compendium of insights.
The depth of Hirshfield’s penetrating gaze isn’t confined to poetry, however. Sparkling beneath the surface of her unique literary analyses rest gems of profound wisdom about life itself. Indeed, I was so often dazzled that I could only absorb a few pages per day from her treasure trove. Let me cluster some samples appearing between pages 250 and 251:
“The abiding necessity of surprise [in poetry] is one reason that factual recitation alone, though highly effective as an element, rarely leads to the transformation we seek and feel in good poems. The difference between ‘fact’ and ‘truth,’ the physicist Niels Bohr once said, is that a fact must be either true or false, while two opposing truths can be equally right, resonant, and informing. For determining facts, we turn to science (or, less happily, at times to courtrooms), but the business of writers is not answers; it is finding right questions…. Good poems make clear without making simple…. Pleasure, not purpose, mates one creature or image with another, and art’s seemingly useless pleasures are not idle. They are imagination serving the future in ways beyond will’s reach.”
Glittering revelations like those will soon draw me back again to page one, so I can re-read, re-inforce, and re-enjoy her entire volume. Although her ideas have been neatly corralled behind ten “windows,” this beguiling arrangement scarcely contains her legions of strikingly new ways to comprehend poetry— and life.
"And by changing selves, one by one, art changes also the outer world that selves create and share."