Jane Hirshfield is my favourite comtemporary poet so far. She is above all a woman with subtle touch and vivid imaginations. Reading her poems almost feels like home coming to me, that particular feminine eyes for the world i've been seeking. Times when the words touch a string, a gentle ripple forms, and quickly disappears. Still a tranquil pond. That's how i feel as i leaf through the hardcover bound poetry book. The sandy coloured paper feels solid between my fingers. - (rambled while I was reading 'Given Sugar, Given Salt')

Below you'll find her biography, related links and several of my favourite poems.

Biography (adapted from Academy of American Poets entry)

Jane Hirshfield was born in New York City in 1953. After receiving her B.A. from Princeton University in their first graduating class to include women, she went on to study at the San Francisco Zen Center.

Her works include
Given Sugar, Given Salt
The Lives of the Heart
The October Palace
Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (an essay)

She also edited and co-translated
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
Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems

Her honors include The Poetry Center Book Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, Columbia University's Translation Center Award, the Commonwealth Club of California Poetry Medal, and the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award. In 2004, Hirshfield was awarded the 70th Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by The Academy of American Poets,

In addition to her work as a freelance writer and translator, Hirshfield has taught at UC Berkeley, University of San Francisco, and been Elliston Visiting Poet at the University of Cincinnati. She is currently on the faculty of the Bennington MFA Writing Seminars.

Here're some of my favourites. Please only use them for your own reference and not distribute them as these poems are copyrighted to Jane Hirshfield.

Manners/Rwanda, Abundant Heart & Arja are from the collection 'The Lives of the Heart'. The rest are from 'Given Sugar, Given salt', which's a finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award.

from 'The Lives of the Heart'

They took the woman
and tied to one arm a child
to the other arm a child
to one leg a child-
you also read this in the paper-
and threw them all in.
No marks of damage, not one
on the five bodies,
which means of course
that they drowned,
which means of course
that she knew.
The river made its way
from higher ground toward lower
and carried them with decorum,
the way a river does
it carries what it is given
and because in the night
a border was crossed,
what was given then was
taken out with a pole.
It may have been united
before added
to the tally sheet with others
and given next
to the quicklime and earth,
but probably not.
There it will likely stay,
where it was carried,
the last contact with anything living
a hand's continuing rising,
almost a waving,
almost a plea
letting go after rolling it in.
The two beats of its fall
almost gentle,
a door being carefully opened,
quietly closed.
And through you too
are sickened, as even the river
is sickened, undrinkable now
with the human heart,
you also carry
what you were given with decorum.
Perhaps reminded later
by something mentioned
only in passing--
a large family,
a cat's toy of string--
you stop smiling a moment soon.
Across the table
someone notices,
but does not speak.
You watch his quesitn rise
and seem to waver like a hand
about to act,
a hand about to change its mind,
and drop politely away.

from 'The Lives of the Heart'

She spoke almost no English
was there as a spouse
'You talk, but I don't understand nothing,'
she said

But on the good-bye card
she painted,
the words I most remember from that time--

'Only the clouds are faithful to the mountain.'

Abundant Heart
from 'The Lives of the Heart'

Because the pelicans circle and dive, the fish
Because the cows are fat, the rains
Because the tree is heavy with pears, the earth
Because the woman grows thin, the heart

A Cedary Fragrance
from 'Given sugar, given salt'

Even now,
decades after,
I wash my face with cold water -

Not for discipline,
nor memory,
nor the icy, awakening slap,

but to practice
to make the unwanted wanted.

from 'Given sugar, given salt'
side note: rebus - a puzzle in which pictures or diagrams encode words

You work with what you are given,
the red clay of grief,
the black clay of stubborness going on after.
Clay that tastes of care or carelessness,
clay that smells of the bottoms of rivers or dust.

Each thought is a life you have lived or failed to live,
each word is a dish you have eaten or left on the table.
There are honeys so bitter
no one would willingly choose to take them.
The clay takes them: honey of weariness, honey of vanity,
honey of cruelty, fear.

This rebus - slip and stubbornness,
bottom of river, my own consumed life -
when will I learn to read it
plainly, slowly, uncolred by hope or desire?
Not to understand it, only to see.

As water given sugar sweetens, given salt grows salty,
we become our choices.
Each yes, each no continues,
this one a ladder, that one an anvil or cup.

The ladder leans into it sdarkness.
The anvil leans into its silence.
The cup sits empty.

How can I enter this question the clay has asked?

from 'Given sugar, given salt'

I woke and remembered
nothing of what I was dreaming.

The day grew light, then dark again-
In all its rich hours, what happened?

A few weeds pulled, a few cold flowers
carried inside for the vase,
A little reading. A little tidying and sweeping.

I had vowed to do nothing I did not wish
to do that day, and kept my promise.

Once, a certain hope came close
and then departed. Passed by me in its familiar
shawl, scented with iodine woodsmoke.

I did not speak to it, nor it to me.
Yet still the habit of warmth traveled
between us, like an apple shared by old friends-

One takes a bite, then the other.
They do this until it is gone.


Related Links

Jane Hirshfield @ Steven Barclay Agency
Jane Hirshfield @ the Academy of American Poets
An interview with Jane Hirshfield @ poetry daily
Jane Hirshfield @ Salon
Watch the hour video of Jane Hirshfield reading her poems @UCTV