Arts & Culture

Poet speaks on science, the self

Jane Hirshfield captivates audience reading diverse selections of poetry from new book, ‘The Beauty’

Contributing Writer
Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Students and guests gathered last night in the McCormack Family Theater to hear poet Jane Hirshfield read a collection of poems from her latest book, “The Beauty.”

Tuesday’s event opened with an introduction from Forrest Gander, professor of literary arts and comparative literature, who called Hirshfield “generous and ebullient.” Hirshfield is the author of eight collections of poetry and two books of essays. She is an “essayist, editor and translator,” as well as a poet, Gander said. In Hirshfield’s work, “the world and consciousness constantly come in flush with each other,” he said.

After the introduction, Hirshfield read a selection of her poems, which varied in subject and length. Some spanned several pages, while others were a mere sentence or two. In between her works, Hirshfield made several asides and explained her poetic choices. She said that at some point in her creative process, all of the poems’ titles included the word “my” and that they all touched upon her “lifelong bemusement of the idea of the self and the other,” exploring “inseparability and interconnectedness.”

Following the reading, the audience had the opportunity to ask Hirshfield questions. After a moment of silence in appreciation of her performance, students and guests asked a variety of questions. Fielding one about her incorporation of kitchen terminology in her poetry, Hirshfield said with a laugh, “I draw from physical experience and from what I do. … I’m  a household cleaner poet.”

Another audience member asked about the recurring themes of science in her poems. “I love the particularity of science,” Hirshfield responed, adding, “A poet doesn’t know where a metaphor that will do the necessary work will come from.”

Cole Adams ’19 said he was especially struck by Hirshfield’s broad range of subjects. “I really appreciated her incorporation of science and history, and her shorter poems were particularly impactful,” he said.

One final question touched upon Hirshfield’s use of meter in her poetry and the difference between reading versus hearing a poem. Hirshfield said both are important and likened the written form of a poem to the sheet music for a musical score. She added, “My poems come to me by ear. … Sound is indispensably essential and a great part of the meaning of a poem.”

Hannah Smith ’16 expressed appreciation of the auditory nature of the reading. She said she had read Hirshfield’s work in high school and was “surprised by the musicality of her voice.” In all, Smith said it was a “soul-filling way to spend a Tuesday evening.”

The Departments of Literary Arts, Contemplative Studies, East Asian Studies and Comparative Literature and a grant from Brown’s Arts Initiative sponsored the event.

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