A Gate Enables passage between what is inside and what is outside, and the connection poetry forges between inner and outer lives is the fundamental theme of these nine essays.
Nine Gates begins with a close examination of the roots of poetic craft in "the mind of concentration" and concludes by exploring the writer's role in creating a sense of community that is open, inclusive and able to bind the individual and the whole in a way that allows each full self-expression. in between, Nine Gates illumines the nature of originality, translation, the various strategies by which meaning unfolds itself in language, poetry's roots in oral memory and the importance of the shadow to good art.
A person who enters completely into the experience of a poem is initiated into a deeper intimacy with life. Delving into the nature of poetry, Jane Hirshfield also writes on the nature of the human mind, perception and experience. Nine Gates is about the underpinnings of poetic craft, but it is also about a way of being alive in the world alertly, musically, intelligently, passionately, permeably.
In part a primer for the general reader, Nine Gates is also a manual for the working writer, with each "gate" exploring particular strategies of language and thought that allow a poem to convey meaning and emotion with clarity and force. Above all, Nine Gates is an insightful guide to the way the mind of poetry awakens our fundamental consciousness of what can be known when a person is most fully alive.
A gifted writer in midcareer, Hirshfield has published her fourth collection of poetry in tandem with a book of essays geared toward the creative writing student. The poems are of the momenteach a single gesture encompassing the dichotomies of presence and absence, life and death, being and not-beingand are heavily influenced by classical Japanese verse Hirshfield helped translate with Mariko Aratani (Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems, by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu) and the Zen Buddhism she has studied for many years: "I turn my blessing like photographs into the light;/ over my shoulder the god of Not-Yet looks on." The best are tragic in their unencumbered vision of human limitation; in one, the speaker listens to a piano played movinglyindeed, even more so, because it is played haltinglyand is ashamed "not at my tears, or even at what has been wasted,/ but to have been dry-eyed so long." Several of the nine essays in Nine Gates originated as lectures presented at writers' conferences. Clear and methodicalsometimes to the point of tediousnessthey discuss the process of poetry with examples from standards like Frost, Yeats, Larkin, Whitman, and a few contemporaries. More individual are the discussions of non-Western verse and aesthetics and the process of translation from Japanese (Hirshfield cannot read Japanese and admits her translations were done cooperatively with a native speaker). In a rare personal confession, she describes herself to the late poet Richard Hugo, whom she did not know: "I don't write much/ about America, or even people. I'd often enough rather/ talk to horses." Indeed, it is the quiet restraint of these writingspoems and prosethat appeals. Recommended.Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York