Showing posts with label Jane Hirshfield. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jane Hirshfield. Show all posts

Monday, November 8, 2010

More on Jane Hirshfield

"Two Poems" - By Jane Hirshfield - Slate Magazine

Hirshfield's "Alzheimer's " poem was actually the first of two poems published in slate, the second one being the bittersweet coda to the the former work's spare unraveling of expectations to aging and infirmity.
The poem, called "The Kind Man", picks up where the other poem ends, where the beautiful thing that was supposed to be forever--the memory of a great man, the beauty of the poem--slips into anonymity and becomes mere material for a younger generation to make use of. The survivor realizes that they don't want their lives becoming museums of those they can longer talk to , kiss, argue and have meals with. Small things become less mementos of glad times than they are stubbor pebbles in the shoe as one tries to move on.

The Kind Man
sold my grandfather's watch,
its rosy gold and stippled pattern to be melted.
Movement unreparable.Lid missing.
Chain—there must have been one—missing.
Its numbers painted with
a single, expert bristle.
I touched the winding stem
before I passed it
over the counter.
The kind man took it,
what I'd brought him as if to the Stasi.
He weighed the honey of time.

This is what we settle for, taking a deep breath and walking over the briarpatched fear of letting go of things imbued with inordinate associations of love and loss, frustration and small wonders, and passing on the things that have family value, accepting the encroaching sense of betrayal, seeing, finally, the watch as only a thing with a minor market value as far as anyone else is concerned. Painful, yes, but this something must be done to make one's life, one's home their own. Any of us who've had to close a parent's house, or say a few words at a good friend's memorial knows the ritual. This is where the life we've given us achieves full autonomy: we are more fully ourselves, more alone than we've been before.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A poem by Jane Hirshfield

An interesting couple of poems appears in Slate by Jane Hirshfield, dealing with the inevitable experience of death, the long shadow that falls over all of us. The first, "Alzheimer's", is a harsh lyric, a superbly connected bit of detail that makes a connection with a troubling fact of life; it is a terrific example of how to concisely travel the distance from the abstract to the specific without sacrificing emotional power. That poem can here.

The question goes "what's eating you?", and , as we get older, shakier, less full of ourselves because there are fewer people who care what we think, or what we've done, a proper answer would seem to be that it is other people who've picked up on your accomplishments and done something more with them. Their inventions and bits of genius are not possible without the base you laid out. So one is a rug, bright, colorful, an intricate weave of detail, experience, improvisations and inspiration, that is chewed on from the margins; the center remains ,the design is visible, but it is tattered and gnawed upon, unable to collect itself to a former glory. The glory never returns.

A thing of beauty is a thing forever, as it goes in the Keatsian sense, but in this instance, the rug standing in as metaphor for a man's presumably long life, the idea of "forever" hinges on the title of Hirshfield's poem,"Alzheimer's". The beautiful man will be so long as there are people to remember him and exchange stories about him, marvel at old photographs, trade details on conversatins they've had with him.

"Forever", Hirshfield implies, is merely another way to refer to describe what the historical record is for the likes of us who do not move mountains , win wars, or save nations from destroying themselves; it merely describes a reprieve against the amnesia that over takes all of us after a loved one dies. The survivors themselves die, and their children have nothing of the friendships to their memory, only the archive of deeds and repeated wisdoms, now uttered as common place phrases in the commonly held idiom. There is a bitterness here, a realization that one has had their turn in the sun and that soon enough the misery of fading away will be done; what remains after the funeral, the books, the furniture, the inventions, the best of what one has done and said, will be distributed among a variety of networks, and what is deemed useful will be judged by an anonymous population that perhaps has no knowledge of who we might have been . Not the example of Keatsian joy. Hirshfield's succinctly debunks the idea that we live on in the memory of others. The lights dim and go out on everything, to the extent that all that actually remains is the detritus of our individual lives, recognized as incidental paraphenalia, to be judged and used by the young in ways of decoration, not honor.

It was suggested by someone that this poem contains an embedded irony in Hirshfield's remembering this dying man in this poem, immortalizing him, in effect. Or so it seems.Preserved in a poem, perhaps, but not really, as most poems that are written and published get a minuscule readership, and that most are not remembered after a short duration. Trust me, as bookseller I have had to clean out houses of a lifetime's reading, piling stacks of old poetry books written by poets with names known only to retired librarians and specialists in arcana. A beautiful poem is not a thing forever, in most respects--someone like Yeats is rare, rare, rare. Poems, their subjects, and their authors fade with time; they become forgotten. What remains is an anonyous residue.

What the old man says about not being the picture of "Keatsian joy" offers a clue to Hirshfield's probable realization that even a metaphorical immortalization in a poem is subject to the recollection of the collection memory. Somethings last longer through the decades better than others, but it is a fact that most poems and their poets are not remembered past their century. Those of us that write poems long to be Shakespeare , Pope or Donne for the sake of longevity, but most of realize, at a gut level, that notoriety in poetry, in content and authorship, is the least reliable way to get famous, or stay famous. I don't think Hirshfied is telling us something so sentimental as to declare that somehow one is remembered in a work of art; this poem has a harder core, but not a cold one. She merely acknowledges, I believe, the limits of memory, of reputation for most of us now walking the earth. Most of us will land in the history books, most of us will not have poems written about us, all of us need to appreciate the joy that does come our way and to not become angry when sorrow occurs , as it must.

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.