On Love: Poems

Edward Hirsch, Author Knopf Publishing Group $22 (96p) ISBN 978-0-375-40253-1
Hirsch writes a controlled, precise, formally ambitious verse reminiscent of the new critical concoctions of a young Richard Wilbur or Anthony Hecht. Reading this fifth collection (which follows 1994's Earthly Measures), one is always aware of a formidable intelligence, wide reading, and an ambition to connect the poet's own achievement with the great poetry of the past. The defects of Hirsch's style, however, are brought out equally clearly by his decision to focus nearly every poem on the title theme, a subject that demands at least as much passion as craft. The poems in the first section of the book are personal, their main themes being the poet's childhood, his Jewishness, and his marriage. Here Hirsch sees love as a longing for transcendence: ""Touching your body/ I was like a rabbi poring/ over a treatise on ecstasy, the message hidden in the scrolls."" In the second half, a sequence that provides the book's title, Hirsch is impersonal: each poem addresses the subject of love in the voice of a famous writer--Stein, Lawrence and Wilde, among others. It is a highly artificial premise, made more so by the incredibly strict forms: the poems are mainly modified sestinas, in which words are often rhymed with themselves (often to the detriment of both sense and rhythm). Unfortunately, these poems are too much pastiche and puppet show; Hirsch doesn't inhabit his speakers so much as employ the most basic clich s about them. Thus in ""Bertolt Brecht,"" we encounter the phrases ""free love,"" ""Karl Marx,"" and ""means of production""; in ""Denis Diderot,"" we find ""Rational Will,"" ""encyclopedia,"" and ""enlightening."" Hirsch's conceit is an interesting one, familiar from his other books (including the NBCC Award-winning Wild Gratitude), but here it fails to get beyond the level of mere device. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/04/1998
Release date: 05/01/1998
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 96 pages - 978-0-375-70260-0
Open Ebook - 72 pages - 978-0-307-55875-6
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