An extraordinary new collection in which the widely acclaimed poet deepens and extends her explorations of essential human questions amid the changing and sensuous world.
"As water given sugar sweetens, give salt grows salty,/ we become our choices," writes Jane Hirshfield in Given Sugar, Given Salt, her fifth and most expansive volume of poems to date. In this luminous and authoritative new collection, Hirshfield presents an ever-deepening and altering comprehensive of human existence in poems utterly unique, as William Matthews once wrote of her work, in their "praise of ceaseless mutability as life's central splendor."
In poems complex in meaning yet clear in statement and depiction, Hirshfield explores questions of identity, aging, and death; of the losses and gains both passionate connection and solitude; of time and the variegated gifts brought by its relentless passage. Whether meditating upon a button, the role of habit in our lives, or the elusive nature of our relationship to sleep, Hirshfield brings each subject into a surprising and magnified existence. Through the breadth and honed beauty of her contemplations, and in the deep usefulness readers ascribe to her work in their own lives. Hirshfield has found a place distinctively her own among American poets.
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The author of five previous poetry collections and a book of essays, Jane Hirshfield has been a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and England’s T. S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, and she is the winner of the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations. Her work has appeared in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, and multiple volumes of The Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies.From Publishers Weekly:
Celebrated as an anthologist (Women in Praise of the Sacred, etc.), Hirshfeld seeks wisdom in the introspective occasions everyday life provides for this fifth collection. As in The October Palace, Hirshfeld's stripped-down diction and hushed sentences attend to her speaker's psychic losses and transformations: "For a year I watched/ as something--terror? happiness? grief?--/ entered and then left my body." "Dream Notebook" wrests a new-seeming subject from an old lyric quarry--not our dreams, but the way we forget them--while other poems consider household objects ("Pillow," "Ladder") in novel ways. Hirshfeld, who has also published a prose work on religion and poetry, uses Buddhism to inform a number of moving, straightforward lyrics and verse-essays (on "Clocks," "Ink," and "Sleep"). Elsewhere poems appeal to autobiography ("I, a woman of forty-five, beginning to gray at the temples") or take up, along with the speaker's overt self-consciousness, the powers and limits of poetry: "Does a poem enlarge the world,/ or only our idea of the world?"; "Why is it so difficult to speak simply?" A few such questions can go a long way, and Hirshfeld relies on their diffuse power too often: this long book of short poems might have been better shorter. A more serious flaw is Hirshfeld's dependence on Louise Glck's characteristic modes: the chilly, interior inquiries and flat declarations will seem very, very familiar to the latter's readers. Yet if Hirshfeld rarely surpasses her model, she uses it well: always accessible and on occasion profound, her new work will likely add to her large circle of admirers.
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