An investigation into incarnation, transience, and our intimate connection with all existence, by one of the preeminent poets of her generation
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.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.