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Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry

4.32  ·  Rating details ·  816 ratings  ·  76 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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4.32  · 
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 ·  816 ratings  ·  76 reviews

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Feb 24, 2016 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
Jul 13, 2014 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
Lisa Kentgen
Jan 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book. Originally I bought it after a couple of misses in trying to find a poetry teacher. This book is about so much more than writing poetry. At the same time, it is an incredible book on poetry. If you are not interested in poetry, I still highly recommend as a 4 plus star. And if you read it, I challenge you not to want to buy more works of poetry.

Hirshfield's writing stimulated my thinking on different projects I am working on. What a wonderful thinker, writer, human.
Catherine Moore
Aug 15, 2014 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
Simon Robs
Nov 13, 2016 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
Rene Saller
Apr 24, 2013 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
Lynn Tait
Jun 25, 2016 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.
Elisabeth Kinsey
Dec 07, 2008 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.
Randy Cauthen
May 05, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Read it and try to do what it says.
Jamie Dedes
Jan 07, 2013 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
Oct 13, 2017 rated it really liked it
Beautifully written. The essays in this collection truly reflect Hirshfield's view of poetry.
Dec 15, 2008 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
Jude Li-Berry
Jan 05, 2015 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 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 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 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 Anthony Sam
Sep 15, 2015 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.
Sep 29, 2007 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.
Jan 03, 2009 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 rated it really liked it
I am always reading this book!
R. Leza
Oct 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: mfa-books
Lots of great information!
Feb 01, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
My favorite book. Ever.
Aidan Owen
Nov 13, 2015 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.
Sep 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Time to read this book again.
Aug 19, 2012 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.
Jonathan Tennis
Mar 26, 2017 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
Nicholas Whyte
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it

I'm not hugely into poetry, but I certainly don't dislike it either, and this is a good approachable set of essays looking at what poetry is and what poets do, informed (often convincingly) by the author's Buddhist philosophy. The chapters on translation are particularly good - it's an issue I grapple with daily in my working life, though of course not usually for poetry.
Rick  Jackofsky
Aug 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is a collection of nine essays. Four or five of them I would rate as 5 star plus, others I struggled to get through. I was going to list the pieces I liked best as well as those I didn't care for, but I realized that those essays that spoke to me, at this particular moment in time, may not be the ones that speak to another reader. If you are a writer, artist, musician, or someone who appreciates the arts, and seek to under stand the creative mind, you should read this book.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Not only is this book overflowing with brilliant insights into the "mind" of poetry, but it is also filled with excellent, beautiful excerpts from dozens of great poems and many complete poems. I was enlightened, educated, entertained and inspired to work harder on my own poetry. My copy of this book is lovingly highlighted, dog-eared and underlined and a favorite in my poetry bookcases. If you love poetry or simply want to better understand it, then this book is a must-read.
Dec 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: owned
Loved it. Will continue to open at random & re-read sections. Thought-provoking and intelligent essays on poetry and writing poetry. The author has a marvelous ability to get readers to stretch their understandings of poetry and why poets write what they write and what their poems mean. A book to be enjoyed over time, and time and time again.
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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
“One breath taken completely; one poem, fully written, fully read - in such a moment, anything can happen.” 24 likes
“One way poetry connects is across time. . . . Some echo of a writer's physical experience comes into us when we read her poem.” 16 likes
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