Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry
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Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  446 ratings  ·  43 reviews
A Gate Enables passage between what is inside and what is outside, and the connection poetry forges between inner and outer lives is the fundamental theme of these nine essays.

Nine Gates begins with a close examination of the roots of poetic craft in "the mind of concentration" and concludes by exploring the writer's role in creating a sense of community that is open, incl...more
Paperback, 240 pages
Published August 26th 1998 by Harper Perennial (first published 1997)
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I totally expected to dislike this book and make a lot of smarmy comments about it. I have to admit I enjoyed the entire reading experience. It's a bit of new agey, Buddhisty foolishness, but entertaining. I especially enjoyed all the quotes, a rundown of all of my favorites.

Here are a few:

Genius is "not a gift, but the way a person invents in desperate circumstances."--Sartre.

Image-making "is primarily a discipline of rightness."--Wallace Stevens.

"Just a turn of the doorknob, and there lies...more
Rene Saller
These lucid and beautifully written essays enact the book's argument, if such a dreary noun can be used to describe the subtle cast of Hirshfield's mind. This is not just a book about poetry--how it works, what it's good for, why anyone should bother writing or reading it. It's a book about seeing, attending, making ever finer distinctions. Reading these essays, each of which investigates a gate of poetic perception, I felt transported back in time to my favorite college classes: intellectually...more
This is perhaps one of the most inspiring and deeply felt examinations of poetry and the poet's task that I have ever read. Essays like these are a rare find and deserve very high praise. Jane Hirshfield touches poetry's essence, its inner and outer, its collaboration between imagination and reality, its threshold existence, with such precision, beauty, and mystery that you will find yourself wishing there were more essays in this book than these nine. Very highly recommended.
Mar 25, 2014 H added it
Shelves: poets-prose

The writer reaches by means of language into the outer world--the world of things, and also of words themselves and their storehoused wisdom--in order to uestion and discover the texture and substance of being. An oar moves a boat by entering what lies outside it. A poem, like an oar, (35) extends inner life into the waters of story and things, of language and music. There we in turn are changed, moved by the encounter's supporting buoyancy, and also its useful re...more
Jamie Dedes


by Jane Hirshfield (b. 1953, American) author and poet

Review by: Jamie Dedes (The Poet by Day,

An award-winning author and poet, Jane Hirshfield has published seven collections of poetry in addition to Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, a collection of essays. Her most recent book of poetry is Come, Thief (August 2011). In collaboration with Mariko Aratoni, Hirshfield edited and translated four volumes of poetry by women o...more
Poetry is spiritual practice for Hirshfield, which I love, and, for the most part, she’s careful with how she handles that spiritual language, but I find her too sincere at times, didactic or prescriptive (always a risk in a book on craft, I suppose), so I like her descriptive moments best, her explication of poems, true illumination, especially of the Japanese poet Komachi she has helped translate.

“The Question of Originality” and “Facing the Lion” are my favorite essays here—very sharp (she is...more
I really loved so many of these essays--especially when Hirshfield was speaking of her experience in translation--Ink Dark Moon! A real favorite.

Sometimes, though, I felt Hirshfield got caught in a kind of private lexicon, in which a number of sentences were not as lucid and precise as I feel her very capable of.... Either she went all the sudden flowery or philosophical, but nonsense. Again, I felt this had something to do with translating her ideas a bit, defining her terms. And, again, at oth...more
I loved it. It touched into my poet, my artist, my passion, my love of words and how they can open and move and transform. She writes so thoughtfully, so knowingly, so bravely and so well. Thank you, Jaime, for sending me off to Japan with this book in my bag. Her essays on Japanese poetry are especially enlightening and open a window on the culture here that I had not been able to look through before. I just ordered some of her own poetry and can't wait to read it...and maybe even commit a coup...more
As a poet-in-development, I had high hopes for this book, and for the most part it didn't disappoint. The nine chapters are separate essays, and the ones I liked the most were at the beginning, on various "minds" or perspectives on/from poetry. "The activity of poetry is to tell us we must change our lives. It does this by posing again and again a question that cannot be answered except with our whole being--body, speech, and mind. What is the nature of this moment? poetry asks, and we have not...more
Johanna C.
Some parts of this book were really tedious and I had to weed out some bits as she'd ramble and I either had no interest or found that it didn't relate to the subject at all. Some essays I completely skimmed over, but read most of them. I really enjoyed some and some poem ideas came put of them even though she doesn't give assignments. Overall I enjoyed it and would say it was a very fruitful read. I just would advise others that sometimes she gets a bit...hmm....airy and just steer forth or ski...more
Cathy Douglas
Aug 14, 2012 Cathy Douglas marked it as to-read
Shelves: 2012, poetry, back-burner
This book was recommended to me by Catherine Moore, who I'm expecting to see as a Goodreads author in a couple years.

I was excited to see Hirshfield edited an anthology of spiritual poetry by women, Women in Praise of the Sacred. After I'm done with this one (and the anthology and two other poetry books I'm reading) I want to read that one jointly with Robert Bly's The Soul has its Own Purpose.
Sep 29, 2007 Marcellina rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: lovers of distilled spiritualism
This is a series of essays by Jane Hirshfield that act like individual meditations into the many quiet landscapes that poetry inhabits. (I'm trying hard to describe what I'm not sure can be described...but if you try this book, you'll see Hirshfield do a MUCH better job of it.) Very good on a quiet dimly-lit night, with a glass of wine and open mind.
based on these essys, it's clear to me that hirschfield is someone who lives, breathes, and bleeds poetry. thoughtful, reflective and extremely intelligent writing--i would always prefer to read poetry than read about writing poetry, but sometimes the lessons are needed.
Hirshfield's essays are wise, cogent, lyrical, and full of heart. If I were forced to come up with a "desert island" list of essays on poetry, "Poetry and the Mind of Concentration," the first essay in the book, would easily make it.
Tyler Malone
Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry is what Harold Bloom says literary criticism should be: thinking poetically about poetry. The essay "On the Question of Originality" alone is worth the price of admission.
Elisabeth Kinsey
Mar 27, 2010 Elisabeth Kinsey rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: poets, poetry enthusiasts.
Recommended to Elisabeth by: Rene Ruderman
If you want to be a poet--or just know the inner world of poetry--Jane leads you there. It is one of the books I go back to again and again for reference, for inspiration, and to gain objectivity on poetry.
Jul 09, 2012 Carolyn rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: all poets
Recommended to Carolyn by: a teacher
I love lectures on verse. While this is no lecture, it is a very grand lesson on poetry. Why poetry lives. Why we should value it. I loved the way Jane taught in this book and I've read it several times since.
Beautifully written but I found it curiously hard to pay attention to. It was almost as though she writing for the beauty of it, not to communicate concepts. My mind kept wandering as I read.
An excellent book of essays to read on writing from a Buddhist perspective. There are some good stories and lessons to be found, however, I found it difficult to stay engaged.
There's so much to be learned from this book, I can't even put it into words. I go back to different parts of it and get a deeper understanding of what she is talking about.
Hirshfield's book contains nine lectures - one on the art of translation (particularly from Japanese), and another on the need for indirect speech really stand out.
Fantastic book - written in prose as crystalline as its thought processes. This is a book of essays, and I found it best to take them slowly and think about them.
Sam Rasnake
Nine essays by Hirshfield exploring the nature of poetry. A marvelous book for the writing poet. I try to read this every summer. The book gives me a sharp edge.
I sold this book before I was finished with it and I'm going to have to find a copy at a library - it was so beautifully written I need to read the rest.
I particularly liked the section on translation. The information I gained served me well later, when I translated Chekhov plays.
Another one of my favorite books of essays on poetry. I turn to it often for a deeper understanding of the work of poetry.
Truth is I could only handle one of these essays, but it was well written and interesting. More of an assignment, though.
Saba Razvi
Nicely crafted collection of essays. If you're a writer or reader of poems, you should read this book.
Aine MacAodha
Just recieved this book today and will absorb every word, love this author and her essays.
the first essay, Poetry and the Mind of Concentration, is so beautifully written that it hurts.
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Jane Hirshfield is the author of seven collections of poetry, including Come Thief (Knopf, August 23, 2011), After (HarperCollins, 2006), which was named a “Best Book of 2006” by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and England’s Financial Times and shortlisted for England’s T.S. Eliot Award; and Given Sugar, Given Salt (finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award); as we...more
More about Jane Hirshfield...
Given Sugar, Given Salt The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single) After The Lives of the Heart Come, Thief

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“One breath taken completely; one poem, fully written, fully read - in such a moment, anything can happen.” 14 likes
“One way poetry connects is across time. . . . Some echo of a writer's physical experience comes into us when we read her poem.” 6 likes
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