Two Poets Out of Ten – Hirschfield and Hayes Make the National Book Award Long List – Part One

A man I once asked a question of has died; his son sends a letter

A thirsty mouse turns a river.
a stone turns a river.

Bodiless Words turn us.

Jane Hirschfield from The Beauty, Alfred A. Knopf, 2015

American Poet and Essayist Jane Hirschfield

American Poet and Essayist Jane Hirschfield

Two Recovering Words favorites made the poetry long-list for the 2015 National Book Awards yesterday: Jane Hirschfield for The Beauty (click here for my blog post) and Terrance Hayes for How To Be Drawn (click here for my blog post). For the long list nominees click here. Along with Hirschfield and Hayes some familiar names but lots of unknowns, too.

To celebrate their inclusion in the list I want to feature, first, in part one of this blog post a poem by Hirschfield in the New Yorker and in part two, a long poem by Hayes from How To Be Drawn.



Some things can surprise you in both directions,
coming and going.

Like a stretch of single train track with shuntings over.

The auto-correct I don’t know how to stop
suggested, just now, “overwhelming,”
with shuntings overwhelming. Almost I took that.

Almost I took you as husband, love. Then you left me.

I took surprise for husband instead.

The Phoenician letter for “h,” pronounced heth,
resembled at first
a slanting, three-runged ladder.
Later it straightened, becoming a double-hung window.

Husband surprise, I climbed you, I climbed right out you.

Jane Hirschfield from the New Yorker, April 13th, 2015

Oh, how I hear Hirschfield in this poem, her surprising  leaps, like a dog catching its tail in mid-air, and coming back down with a perfect four point landing! But also I hear Tomas Transtromer in the metaphor of train tracks from his poem Tracks.  Both he and Hirschfield perfect the art of poetic shorthand I can only marvel at. Not in my repertoire! Yet.

What a perfectly surprising poem. From shuntings (great word), to auto correct, to Husband to a Phooenician letter that looks like a window to take her right out of grief and her poem! How she manages her emotions, takes us to the window of them but won’t let us or herself get caught in them. What a deft move: to say I almost took that (meaning the auto-corrected word) and then to say utterly out of context: I almost took you as Husband, love. Then you left me. All I can whisper: holy shit Jane, how did you manage that? and more: how did you manage to get out through a window suggested by a letter!

Oh Jane. I took surprise for a husband instead. You marry your heart and mind to words in a way that makes you feel somehow, to me, both in and out of this world, concurrently.  You touch the reality  I know but transform it. Make it seem new, different.  You do in your poetry what poetry should do according to Heather McHugh, who says it should find the sudden unexpectedness inside the overknown. And to that all I can say, again, is Oh Jane.


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