cover image Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

Jane Hirschfield, Jane Hirshfield. HarperCollins, $22 (240pp) ISBN 978-0-06-017456-9

A cross between a reader's guide to poetry and a how-to guide for would-be poets, Hirshfield's collected essays on poetic understanding read like a series of vigorous, well-documented university guest lectures--and, in fact, most were written either as lectures at writing conferences or for literary periodicals. She approaches her subject matter, the ""mind of poetry,"" by exploring questions of artistry, originality, sensation and most significantly, the connection between the outer world and the interior mind that is bound together in the body of a poem. The essays skillfully navigate the territory of poetry while avoiding the pitfalls: rather than ask the dogged question ""What is a poem?"", Hirshfield sticks to ""how and why does a poem do the things it does?"" Some essays begin by exploring a particular problem but extend to a more universal study. In one essay, a musing on the phrase ""leaves of words"" leads the author on a tour through Japanese poetic history to find the bounty of ""a single moment's perception... more than enough to hold a world."" At other times, Hirshfield writes inductively, as in a deft essay on translation in which she begins by surveying the discussion of fidelity in translation and ends with specific lessons from her own translations of women poets of the ancient Japanese court. The interconnectedness of these distinct essays is a measure of the author's control over the collection and her insight into poetry. With her feet firmly planted in both the Western and Eastern canons, Hirshfield delivers a thorough and timely collection on our relationships to poetry, our relationship to the world and everything in between. (Sept.)