Edward Hirsch

b. 1950
Edward Hirsch
Poet and author Edward Hirsch has built a reputation as an attentive and elegant writer and reader of poetry. Over the course of eight collections of poetry, four books of criticism, and the long-running  “Poet’s Choice” column in the Washington Post, Hirsch has transformed the quotidian into poetry in his own work, as well as demonstrated his adeptness at explicating the nuances and shades of feeling, tradition, and craft at work in the poetry of others. Introducing Hirsch at the National Arts Club, Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri remarked: “The trademarks of his poems are things I strive to bring to my own writing: to be intimate but restrained, to be tender without being sentimental, to witness life without flinching, and above all, to isolate and preserve those details of our existence so often overlooked, so easily forgotten, so essential to our souls.” "I would like to speak in my poems with what the Romantic poets called 'the true voice of feeling,'" Hirsch told Contemporary Authors. "I believe, as Ezra Pound once said, that when it comes to poetry, 'only emotion endures.'"

Described by Peter Stitt in Poetry as "a poet of genuine talent and feeling," Hirsch’s first volume, For the Sleepwalkers (1981) was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award; his second, Wild Gratitude(1986) won the award in 1987. He has been awarded fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and received a MacArthur “genius” award in 1997. His numerous other awards include an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award. A former professor at Wayne State University and the University of Houston, Hirsch is president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.

Born in 1950 in Chicago, Hirsch was educated at Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a PhD in folklore. His first books contain vignettes of urban life and numerous tributes to artists, which, according to David Wojahn in the New York Times Book Review, "begin as troubled meditations on human suffering [but] end in celebration." New Republic contributor Jay Parini wrote that in For the Sleepwalkers, "Hirsch inhabits, poem by poem, dozens of other skins. He can become Rimbaud, Rilke, Paul Klee, or Matisse, in each case convincingly." Hirsch uses other voices in later works like On Love (1998). Taking onthe personae of dozens of poets from the past, including diverse writers like D. H. Lawrence, Charles Baudelaire, and Jimi Hendrix, Hirsch creates an imaginary conversation between them as they discuss the subject of love.

Hirsch’s interest in mining the past and traditions of poetry extends to his critical work as well. How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (1999) presents close-readings of an eclectic mix of poems and poets, written in an accessible style. The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (2003) considers the concept of duende, which posits that artistic creation arises out of a heightened state, or power. Made most famous by Frederico García Lorca, Hirsch explores the implications of duende across a variety of artists, including Martha Graham and Lorca himself. Hirsch’s encyclopedic knowledge of poetry, poets, and poetics served him during his tenure at the Washington Times, where he penned the weekly “Poet’s Choice” column. Collecting the columns into the book Poet’s Choice (2006), Hirsch stated his goals for his work as a critic: “I write for both initiated and uninitiated readers of poetry. I like to spread the word...My notion was to make links and connections, to bring forward unknown poets, and to help people to think about poetry in a somewhat deeper way. It seemed to work.”

Hirsch’s later volumes of poetry include Earthly Measures (1994), On Love (1998), and Lay Back the Darkness (2003), which includes treatments of the Orpheus myth as well as several ekphrasis poems. The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems 1972–2010 (2010) shows, according to Peter Campion in the New York Times, “a kind of model for the growth of poetic intelligence.” Campion went on to note: “What makes Hirsch so singular in American poetry is the balance he strikes between the quotidian and something completely other—an irrational counterforce.” Though noting that Hirsch’s poems sometimes sink to rhetoric, Campion concluded that, “Hirsch situates himself between the ordinary and the ecstatic. The everyday and the otherworldly temper each other in these excellent ­poems, and American poetry gains new strength as a result.”

 

Career

Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, assistant professor, 1979-82, associate professor of English, 1982-85; University of Houston, Houston, TX, associate professor, 1985-88, professor of English, 1988—. Member of the education advisory committee of the Guggenheim Foundation. John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, president, 2002—; Member of the advisory board of the American Poetry and Literary Project.

Bibliography

POETRY
  • For the Sleepwalkers, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.
  • Wild Gratitude, Knopf (New York, NY), 1986.
  • The Night Parade, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989.
  • Earthly Measures, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
  • On Love, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
  • Lay Back The Darkness, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Special Orders, Knopf (New York, NY), 2008.
  • The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems 1975–2010, Knopf (New York, NY), 2010.
OTHER
  • (Author of introduction and selector) Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
  • How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, Harcourt (San Diego, CA), 1999.
  • Responsive Reading, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1999.
  • The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration, Mariner Books (New York, NY), 2003.
  • Poet’s Choice, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (New York, NY), 2006.

Contributor of articles, stories, poems, and reviews to periodicals, including New Yorker, Poetry, American Poetry Review, Nation, New Republic, New York Times Book Review, and Paris Review.

Further Reading

BOOKS
  • Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 31, 1985, Volume 50, 1988.
  • Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 120: American Poets since World War II, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
PERIODICALS
  • AB Bookman's Weekly, November 28, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 2281.
  • American Libraries, December, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 1040; April, 1999, review of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, p. 93.
  • American Scholar, spring, 1999, review of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, p. 140.
  • Bloomsbury Review, March, 2000, interview with Edward Hirsch, pp. 15-16.
  • Booklist, March 15, 1989, p. 1243; February 15, 1994, Donna Seaman, review of Earthly Measures, p. 1053; January 15, 1995, review of Earthly Measures, p. 855; May 1, 1998, Donna Seaman, review of On Love, p. 1495; March 15, 1999, Donna Seaman, review of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, p. 1273; January 1, 2000, review of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, p. 812.
  • Choice, January, 2000, review of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, p. 925.
  • Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 1994, review of Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, p. 11.
  • Commonweal, December 1, 1995, review of Earthly Measures, p. 20.
  • DoubleTake, issue 6, review of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry.
  • Five Points, winter, 2000, interview with Edward Hirsch, pp. 58-74.
  • Georgia Review, summer, 1982.
  • Hudson Review, winter, 1995, review of Earthly Measures, p. 673.
  • Image, fall, 2000, interview with Edward Hirsch, pp. 52-69.
  • Kenyon Review, spring, 2000, interview with Edward Hirsch, pp. 54-69.
  • Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1998, review of On Love, p. 778; April 1, 1999, p. 465.
  • Library Journal, March 1, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 90; June 15, 1998, Thomas F. Merrill, review of On Love, p. 82; May 1, 1999, Ellen Sullivan, review of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, p. 77.
  • Nation, September 13, 1981, p. 14; September 27, 1986, p. 285; December 26, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 814.
  • New Leader, March 8, 1982, Phoebe Pettingell, review of For the Sleepwalkers.
  • New Republic, April 14, 1982, Jay Parini, review of For the Sleepwalkers, p. 37.
  • New Yorker, May 23, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 101.
  • New York Review of Books, August 17, 1989, p. 26; July 16, 1998, review of On Love, p. 41.
  • New York Times, August 3, 1994, p. C19.
  • New York Times Book Review, September 13, 1981, p. 14; June 8, 1986, p. 38; January 28, 1990, p. 26; May 15, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 26; June 5, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 34; December 4, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 78; July 4, 1999, review of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, p. 17.
  • Poetry, May, 1986; December, 1994, Robert B. Shaw, review of Earthly Measures, p. 158; March, 1999, review of On Love, p. 357.
  • Publishers Weekly, January 3, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 72; May 25, 1998, review of On Love, p. 84; March 29, 1999, review of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, p. 100.
  • Rattle, summer, 2000, interview with Edward Hirsch, pp. 139-154.
  • Tribune Books (Chicago), February 1, 1987, p. 2; August 6, 1989, p. 5.
  • Voice Quarterly Review, autumn, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 133.
  • Wall Street Journal, April 2, 1999, review of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, p. W6.
  • Washington Post Book World, July 6, 1986, p. 8; May 22, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 11; January 10, 1999, review of On Love, p. 11.
  • World Literature Today, winter, 1999, review of On Love, p. 160.
  • Yale Review, July, 1998, review of On Love, p. 160.

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Audio & Podcasts

Poetry Off the Shelf Poetry Off the Shelf
  • Listen Lines for Hard Times
    Philip Levine reads his defiantly hopeful "They Feed They Lion" and "What Work Is" with commentary by Edward Hirsch.
Poetry Off the Shelf Poetry Off the Shelf Poem of the Day Poem of the Day Poem of the Day Poetry Lectures Chicago Poetry Tour Podcast
  • Listen Harold Washington Library
    Harold Washington was elected as Chicago’s first African American mayor in 1983. Gwendolyn Brooks, Edward Hirsch, and Albert Goldbarth read an array of poems celebrating progress and the pleasures of reading.

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POET’S REGION U.S., Midwestern

LIFE SPAN 1950–

Edward Hirsch

Biography

Poet and author Edward Hirsch has built a reputation as an attentive and elegant writer and reader of poetry. Over the course of eight collections of poetry, four books of criticism, and the long-running  “Poet’s Choice” column in the Washington Post, Hirsch has transformed the quotidian into poetry in his own work, as well as demonstrated his adeptness at explicating the nuances and shades of feeling, tradition, and craft at . . .

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