Sunday, September 13, 2009

Insomnia with Jane Hirshfield

Jame Hirshfield is a quiet poet, it seems, a writer of diffuse focus but deep feeling who manages to report from the far ether of her perception. Her poems are a painfully sincere testimony to her difficulties in reconciling the inexplicability of experience and a poetic correlation. There is the continued feeling of things left out, of items set far from one another , in separate piles, but arranged in an arcane relation that suggest someone arranging a set, a doll house, with items that are to relive scenarios once all the markings are in place. Her poems make me think of of years of unfinished perception and mullings over the gathered experience of so many years alive, moments sad , tragic, hilarious by turn, all lacking a finalizing punchline. What makes her poetry a wonder the small scale yet heroic effort to reduce the clutter from her lines and bare instead the image and the naked association that goes with it; it is the effect of over hearing someone talking to themselves. You can only imagine what the rest of the story might be.

Her poem Invitation is from someone who has traveled too much, or at least excepted too many invitations to various events. Hirshfied gives us the half thoughts of someone telling their tale between stations of awareness--the mind is half asleep, on the edge of blacking out, while the other is barely focused at all. Large gaps between the vectoring comings and goings leave much for the reader to fill in, and one senses as well that Hirshfield is attempting in someway to fill those holes herself. The poem reads more like an outline rather than a conventional narrative; this seems like a map of where she has been ; with the dates, faces, names, and causes blurring into an impressionist squint, the speaker attempts to find a center of being, a sense of gravity where the body feels it has weight rather than being spectral, ghost like, a presence hardly accounted for that in turn cannot engage the special occasions she's been invited to attend.

Before you have said yes or no,
your arms
slip into its coat sleeves,

and on your feet,
the only shoes bearable
for many days' travel.

Unseen, the two small fawns
grazing in sun outside the window,
their freckled haunches
and hooves' black teaspoons.

Abandoned, the ripening zucchini inside the fence.

Krakow, Galway, Beijing—
how is a city folded so lightly
inside a half-ounce envelope and some ink?

That small museum outside Philadephia,
is it still open,
and if so, is there a later train?

The moment averts its eyes to this impoliteness.

It waits for its guest
to return to her bathrobe and slippers,
her cup of good coffee, her manners.

The morning paper,
rustling in hand,
gives off a present fragrance, however slight.

But invitation's perfume?—
Quick as a kidnap,
faithless as adultery,
fatal as hope.


Lovely, really, this small mystery of perception. This is someone finding their experience collapsed upon itself under the weight of sameness--sleepwalking is the apt metaphor here, as the receiver of the invitation finds herself putting on a familiar coat and comfortable shoes she associates for long periods on foot. Even the home, with which she ought to be intimate with and sad to leave yet again becomes instead, just another item that comes and goes . With eyes open and senses in tact, everything is at the edge of recognition, teetering between acute awareness and conditioned amnesia. Like her map of places to go and the roads to take in order to arrive on time, the world is small and lacking in wonder. This is a mind forcing itself to address what it is it has recently dealt with, an attempt to chip away at the dullness of mind that overcomes even the most alert and sensitive soul. This is a poem about whirling through the hard, detailed vagaries of things and realizing that one isn't broadened for the relentless exposure, but depleted.

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