Given Sugar, Given Salt

Jane Hirshfield, Author
Jane Hirshfield, Author HarperCollins $24 (96p) ISBN 978-0-06-019954-8
Reviewed on: 02/01/2001
Release date: 02/01/2001
Paperback - 96 pages - 978-0-06-095901-2
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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 Gl ck'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. (Feb. 12)
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