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Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

4.32  ·  Rating Details ·  682 Ratings  ·  63 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
Paperback, 240 pages
Published August 26th 1998 by Harper Perennial (first published 1997)
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Jul 13, 2014 Jimmy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry-essays
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
Feb 24, 2016 Ken added it
Recommends it for: poets, lovers of poetry, Buddhists or those interested in Eastern philosophy
If you are interested in Eastern culture, Buddhism, and poetry, this is the book for you. Hirshfield uses her own interest in the East to inform many of her essays on what makes poetry poetry. Not that she stops there. She's willing (and able) to call in some Christianity, some Greek mythology, and some big names in poetry for assists. The essay titles are as follows:

"Poetry and the Mind of Concentration"
"The Question of Originality"
"The World Is Large and Full of Noises: Thoughts on Translation
Feb 15, 2012 Joel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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.
Rene Saller
Apr 24, 2013 Rene Saller rated it it was amazing
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
Sep 29, 2007 Marcellina rated it it was amazing
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.
Elisabeth Kinsey
Dec 07, 2008 Elisabeth Kinsey rated it it was amazing
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.
Lynn Tait
Jun 25, 2016 Lynn Tait rated it it was amazing
Nature, spirituality in poetry all wrapped in informative and uplifting essays from Hirshfield. All of the essays had their own strengths, but Facing the Lion: The Way of Shadow and Light in Some Twentieth-Century Poems really struck a chord with me. I highly recommend this book.
Randy Cauthen
May 05, 2010 Randy Cauthen rated it it was amazing
Read it and try to do what it says.
Jamie Dedes
Jan 07, 2013 Jamie Dedes rated it it was amazing


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
Catherine Moore
Aug 15, 2014 Catherine Moore rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: poets, literary writers, philosophers
Recommended to Catherine by: Donald Morrill
Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. Hirshfield, Jane. New York: Harper Perennial, 1998. ISBN: 0-06-092948-0

I finished reading "Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry" by Jane Hirshfield for a second time and what shines through in this collection of essays is Hirshfield's reverence for the poet who "weaves a world" out of his or her ability "to attend unswervingly." Or as she puts it, "Poems show that a single moment's perception is more than enough to hold a world."

The book presents nine
Dec 15, 2008 Jessie rated it really liked it
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
Simon Robs
Nov 13, 2016 Simon Robs rated it really liked it
A book that, like Dante's Beatrice, guides us through a descent into one hella dreamscape, through oral history then verse as words and language organized into poetry and beyond. She gathers the philosophy and myth, the men/women in their traditions/cultures, in our world of time/space. There's a nice blend here of poems and prose, poets and explication, her voice in our mind just like all time. If you love poetry you'll love this carol of such, it's beauty in words for the ages.

What about some
Jude Bee
Jan 05, 2015 Jude Bee rated it it was amazing
This is a book I started reading before applying for a MFA program in poetry, and I wish I had continued reading it and the other books I enjoyed at the time, rather than going to the MFA program. It has been almost six years now, and picking it up again has been a bit like a chance encounter with an old friend, a human, in the Newspeak world of humanoids. Through a series of nine essays, Hirshfield gradually reveals a world of living poetry, as well as of poetic living. And the later is no mere ...more
Nov 24, 2010 Sherry rated it really liked it
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
Nov 01, 2011 Anna rated it really liked it
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
Johanna C.
Sep 21, 2010 Johanna C. rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010, 2011
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
David Sam
Sep 15, 2015 David Sam rated it it was amazing
Jane Hirshfield is not just one of the finest poets writing today, she is also one of the best writers about the craft and art of poetry and its place in our contemporary world. This collection of essays is not just for the student of poetry but for anyone who cares about language and the need for art to make us wholly human.
Jan 03, 2009 Rilkepoet rated it it was amazing
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.
Sally Anne
Feb 10, 2010 Sally Anne rated it really liked it
I am always reading this book!
Feb 01, 2015 Christopher rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
My favorite book. Ever.
Sep 28, 2014 Marin rated it it was amazing
Time to read this book again.
Mona Bethke
Oct 09, 2014 Mona Bethke rated it really liked it
Shelves: mfa-books
Lots of great information!
Aug 19, 2012 Kalima rated it liked it
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.
Aidan Owen
Nov 13, 2015 Aidan Owen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, poetry, spirituality
Wonderful collection of essays. Incisive and insightful, not only about poetry, but about art, meaning-making, and the search for truth. Truly worth the read.
Aug 22, 2014 Paige marked it as to-read
Shelves: poetry
Hirshfield is Buddhist
Jonathan Tennis
Mar 26, 2017 Jonathan Tennis rated it it was amazing
My first Jane Hirshfield craft book. To say this woman knows poetry is an understatement. This book is only 224 pages long but packed with Hirshfield’s breadth and depth of knowledge of the subject of poetry. Mentioning over 40 poets and making references to their work or style this book focuses on the central energies through which poetry moves forward – music, rhetoric, image, emotion, story and voice (p. 7). A few pages later, she moves on to discuss the luminaries Mozart, Gertrude Stein, Pab ...more
Margaret1358 Joyce
May 20, 2017 Margaret1358 Joyce rated it it was amazing
This is a book to savor: its descriptions and examples of the private and communal roles of poetry simply exquisite. For poetry enthusiasts--a veritable diamond mine!
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
Jul 11, 2009 Brian rated it liked it
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
Nov 13, 2008 Michael rated it it was amazing
This is a book that is taking me forever to read, but that is not a criticism. It is a sort of fountain that I continually return to for renewal of creativity, but it is one that like anything potent, needs to be taken in small doses. Hirschfield embues her sense of poetry with her commitment to zen and other eastern religions. I'm lucky enough to have had her autograph my copy, so you know I'mnot giving it up.
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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
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“One breath taken completely; one poem, fully written, fully read - in such a moment, anything can happen.” 21 likes
“One way poetry connects is across time. . . . Some echo of a writer's physical experience comes into us when we read her poem.” 13 likes
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