A book of personal, ecological, and political reckoning from the internationally renowned poet named "among the modern masters" (The Washington Post).
Ledger's pages hold the most important and masterly work yet by Jane Hirshfield, one of our most celebrated contemporary poets. From the already much-quoted opening lines of despair and defiance ("Let them not say: we did not see it. / We saw"), Hirshfield's poems inscribe a registry, both personal and communal, of our present-day predicaments. They call us to deepened dimensions of thought, feeling, and action. They summon our responsibility to sustain one another and the earth while pondering, acutely and tenderly, the crises of refugees, justice, and climate. They consider "the minimum mass for a whale, for a language, an ice cap," recognize the intimacies of connection, and meditate upon doubt and contentment, a library book with previously dog-eared corners, the hunger for surprise, and the debt we owe this world's continuing beauty. Hirshfield's signature alloy of fact and imagination, clarity and mystery, inquiry, observation, and embodied emotion, has created a book of indispensable poems, tuned toward issues of consequence to all who share this world's current and future fate.
Jane Hirshfield is the author of nine collections of poetry, including the forthcoming Ledger (Knopf, March 2020), The Beauty (Knopf, 2015), longlisted for the National Book Award, 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 well as two now-classic books of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. She has also edited and co-translated three books collecting the work of women poets from the distant past, and one e-book on Basho and the development of haiku, The Heart of Haiku. Hirshfield’s other honors include The Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the 40th Annual Distinguished Achievement Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, an honor previously received by Robert Frost, Elizabeth Bishop, and William Carlos Williams. Her work has been featured in ten editions of The Best American Poems and appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times Literary Supplement/TLS, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, The New York Review of Books, Orion, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. Hirshfield’s poems have also been featured many times on Garrison Keillor’s Writers Almanac as well as two Bill Moyers’ PBS television specials. She has presented her poems and taught at festivals and universities throughout the U.S., in China, Japan, the Middle East, the U.K., Poland, and Ireland. In 2019, she was elected into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.
With poems smooth and succinct, Ledger is a tender tap on the shoulder, a voice that says “look at this” and “look at that.” Ledger catalogs losses, hidden gains, surprises, rhythms of an aging spirit—found in streams, trees, floorboards, buckets, pockets and birds.
I just heard another writer say this week that people don't read poetry books from beginning to end; they just jump around in them. Well, that's just not true! And Jane Hirshfield's books are one of the best cases in point. Her books, and particularly this one, are carefully constructed, and go from one place to another. The reader grows and changes as he moves through the book.
Yes, Hirshfield has gone higher and higher in my pantheon of contemporary poets over the last decade. She is able to assume the prophetic mantle without effort; I doubt if she even thinks about it. At times she can sound like a gentle Old Testament prophet. This book begins with a poem that is already becoming kind of famous:
Let them not say: we did not see it. We saw.
Let them not say: we did not hear it. We heard.
Let them not say; they did not taste it. We ate, we trembled.
She moves on through visions of the world, troubling visions. She responds to the wars and the perversion of language that allows for wars. She writes poems that are clearly informed by her Buddhist practice. She has poems of exquisite observation, like she has had for all of her writing life. She has poems of obvious metaphor that sound something like wisdom literature. Like "Snow":
Little soul, for you, too, death is coming.
Was there something you thought you needed to do?
Snow does not walk into a room
And then, perhaps best of all, there are the poems that feel like metaphors, but they are metaphors that are deeply mysterious. Hirshfield leaves us with that sense that the world is bigger that we can ever understand. And she does it with incredibly few words, just a few brushstrokes, that often seem considered for a very long time.
There were a few poems that really struck me in this collection, but many that did not. I've liked several of Hirschfield's short, quippy poems - the ones that deviated from this form were unfamiliar and harder to connect to.
O Snail, wrote Issa, climb Fuji slowly, slowly.
Hirschfield at her best in O Snail! <3
Brain feeling scattered. Need to take better notes as I read.
“A writer’s capital is language, which, it seems, is as slippery as any other kind of wealth, as potentially cursed if held without nuance, as transient, as bluntly and inextricably subjective. A briefly borrowed inheritance; a street-found penny.”
Some a little mundane, which I can’t decide is a comment on the poems themselves or just that I’ve been reading a lot of poetry from people who don’t think like I do. i.e., hirshfield is a white American scientific-thinking female, so of course we will think along the same lines, so the poems would be simpler-feeling and relatable. On the other hand, I could simply be being pretentious and thinking that poems about noisy apartment neighbors are boring and not “””deep”””” enough. Whatever. I’m still working on my poetry literacy.
Particular poems/lines I liked: Let Them Not Say Day Beginning With Seeing The ISS... ��If the unbearable were not weightless we might yet buckle under the grief of what hasn’t changed yet.” Today, Another Universe “Today, for some, a universe with vanish. First noisily, then just another silence.” In Ulvik Nine Pebbles “This body, still walking. The wind must go around it.” Amor Fati Ledger “For the exiled, home can be translated “then”, translated “scar”” Ghazal For The End Of Time
This is a collection of poems that I just wasn’t wowed by. I personally think poetry is super subjective, and so while I was lukewarm about most of this collection myself, I don’t think it’s therefore “bad.” Hirshfield’s poems in Ledger feel high quality, they feel expensive…sort of the way the sheets in a 5 star hotel feel. She’s experienced and obviously lives words and imagery. She’s also obviously processing some big shit- climate change and mass extinction. But for me, I could admire the quality while yet not being seized by them. I guess sort of the way I might feel those 5 star sheets, and even though they’re crisp and thick and clearly excellent sheets, to me they don’t feel comfortable, so I don’t wish I had them at home. There’s also a bit of Mary Oliver influence, so that’s always a trigger for me, ever since I read Oliver’s essay about digging up turtle eggs and eating them “just to see what they taste like.” I know that I am alone among white women of a certain age in disliking Mary Oliver, but now you know why I dislike her and now you know that I dislike her, so you will understand why an Oliver influence is not a good thing in my experience. Anyhoo, if you like Oliver a lot or if you crave very vague, oblique meditations on loss, extinction, and climate change, this may very well be just what you’re looking for. For me, not so much.
Some really lovely poems that speak to this strange moment (2020) with simplicity combined with mystery. Curiosity about everything on earth abounds. The succinct and suggestive flavor of Japanese poetry and the koan-ic form of Buddhism mean that mystery remains elusive, but lingers in the mind.
Notebook A Venus flytrap can count to five. Crows and bees recognize faces. Mice suffer when seeing a mouse who is known to them suffer. Trees warn one another to alter their sap as beetles draw near.
Our one remaining human distinction a pre-Copernican pride in our human distinction.
"Arthritis in both ankles!" Neruda wrote in a notebook, January 3. 1959, on a boat leaving Valparaiso for Venezuela,
limping like an old racehorse, then starting his poem.
"I entered the debt that is owed to the real. // Forgive, / spine-covered leaf, soft-bodied spider, / octopus lifting / one curious tentacle back toward the hand of the diver / that in such black ink / I set down your flammable colors." ("The Debt")
"Let them say we warmed ourselves by it, / read by its light, praised, / and it burned." ("Let Them Not Say")
"As for the humans. / Let us not speak of the humans. / Let us speak of their language. // The first-person singular / condemns the second-person plural / for betrayals neither has words left to name. // The fed consider the hungry / and stay silent." ("Cataclysm")
This is brilliant collection. Although I'm familiar with Hirshfield's work this collection knocked me sideways with its range. My beautiful (thank you library!!!) new copy bristled with the pieces of paper I used to mark pages of poems I needed to re-read (and share). The # series which all began "Little soul," was especially strong for me. The sparser the poem, the more I'm amazed. From "Kitchen," "Yet a life is not prepared for its ending like a sliced eggplant,
salted and pressed to let leave from itself what is bitter."
These are not poems in complete, grammatical sentences that tell a clever story -- there are plenty of those out there, & I read them too, sometimes. But I'm inspired by poems that play with language, use repetition, that deal with big ideas without drowning me in dense analysis.
These are playful, serious poems, more like Zen koans, few more than a page, meditative & engaged particularly in environmental issues, & what it means to be human.
I borrowed it from the Albany Public Library, I think I need my own copy to mark it up.
Likely my least favorite Hirshfield collection--but that said, there are still a lot of amazing words here (and--I just counted--at least a dozen poems I gave two stars to in the table of contents, a sign I need to go reread those again and again)! Her style seems to get more pared down with each book, almost to the point where it's too much (or too little?). Nonetheless, I'm glad to have read this collection, all the moreso because it was given to me by a friend.
This poet asked me to reach. And I did. But sometimes I STILL DIDN'T GET IT. So I reached again--deeper, farther. And maybe I got it then--got something that I felt was real, got something that I felt to be the poet's intention. But often, despite my reaching, I didn't get anything but air. Being of a guilty disposition, I started to blame myself. But then I thought: seems like I'm doing all the reaching. Hirshfield could put a little more effort into reaching toward me, the reader. So, after all that, why am I giving the book four stars? Well, when writer and reader did connect, it was a good connection indeed.
Oh how I love Jane Hirshfield! Infused with nature, inquiry, spiritual disquietude, these are pieces that engage and invite the reader to be in dialogue with them. I took my time with these, mulling some, sharing others, answering my favorites. Should I send my own poem to her? I know a woman who got to pick her up at the airport and drive her to a reading. I think I would have been tongue-tied and starstruck. At least this way, I can say what I want to in my own way.
These poems are gorgeous...but in a way that feels new to me, having read many poetry collections by Jane Hirshfield. These poems are often brief, counting on one word to literally open up the poem into an event, an experience of what it might be like to be fish or bird. I've always loved her poetry. These poems gave me an experience of a new form of poem. I want to explore her leaps of time and logic. I am in awe of how much she accomplishes in so few words. Brilliant.