After

Jane Hirshfield, Author
Jane Hirshfield, Author . HarperCollins $23.95 (97p) ISBN 978-0-06-077916-0
Reviewed on: 12/05/2005
Release date: 02/01/2006

Serious, prayerful and governed by quietly sweeping abstract lines, Hirshfield's sixth collection of verse continues the meditative direction established in 2001's well-received Given Sugar, Given Salt . She subtitles many poems "an assay," meaning both a try and an exposition: the sky, the words "of " and "to" and the writings of Edgar Allan Poe all become such discursive test cases. Some assays are prose poems, a form that balances out Hirshfield's tropism toward restrained wonder. The tone overall, however, inclines decisively toward sadness and grief: the poet aspires "to live amid the great vanishing a cat must live,/ one shadow fully at ease inside another." Hirshfield brings a plainspoken American spirituality (think of Mary Oliver or Robert Bly) to bear on her interest in East Asian practice: a set of quite short (one to five lines) lyric efforts, under the collective title "Seventeen Pebbles," pares Hirshfield's sensibility to a Zen concision. A longer Japanese-influenced poem concludes, "slowness alone is not to be confused/ with the scent of the plum tree just before it opens." Clarification makes for consolation in this gentle and very unified book. (Feb.)

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