Monday, November 13, 2006

Reading Jane Hirschfield

Lately, I have been trying to write poetry. Verse. I’m not used to the practice and have avoided any serious efforts at poetry because I always felt that people who could write poetry were somehow able to write it even before their parents were born—raw talent, of which I have little. The craft, to me, seems to call those to it whose existence itself contains some sort of secret muscle that is already wholly poetic. Poetry, I always supposed, asked a writer to embrace a kind of intensity, a kind of immersion into all things mystical, conscientiousness, and tender. These past years I have felt too impudent to be called to a poetic project. Unworthy.

But when a book I recently read disclosed to me that writing poetry sometimes involves being a trickster, I changed my mind. Hmm? Maybe I can make a new attempt.

I recently moved into a new apartment. The previous tenant abandoned a book, still in tact, in the cold fireplace; I rescued this collection of essays by Jane Hirshfield called Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and made its pages my pet. I have enjoyed this book and was entirely regretful when it came to an end after 228 pages (’s published by HarperPerennial). This is the first book I have read that has given me a clearer perspective on the delight of reading and writing poetry.

There are three main ideas that I found particularly helpful from Hirshfield’s book: 1) concentration—how to invoke the poet’s attentive mind, 2) how to face the lion and what it means to confront frightening insight, and 3) working in a threshold realm as a writer, navigating the abysmal crack between the pillow and the dreamer’s cheek.

Now I might take risks and compose something I never dared. Refreshing. And I am approaching my new project with a very different attitude than I approached the novel or flash fiction. This feels much calmer, more mature. I love growing older.

Until a few days ago, I have never felt comfortable writing poetry. The problem, I learned, was that my mind had never rested in the proper attentive pose. Attentiveness. I am working on making myself more attentive (whatever that means), and during these few days of watching and listening while honoring, I have been gifted with some surprising revelations, both pleasant and frightening.

Like in my previous home, I am still not sleeping so well, but I guess the insomnia can’t be attributed to over indulgence in prose. Even when my mind, these days, turns to poetry, I can’t seem to enjoy deep slumber at night. The ancients could hire me to keep watch on the moon deck. I hear they pay a decent wage.

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