In this innovative series of public lectures at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, leading contemporary poets speak about the craft and practice of poetry to audiences drawn from both the city and the university. The lectures are then published in book form by "Bloodaxe", giving readers everywhere the opportunity to learn what the poets themselves think about their own subject. Jane Hirshfield examines the roles of hiddenness, uncertainty and surprise as they appear in poetry and other works of literature, in the life and psyche of the writer, and in the broader life of the culture as a whole. POETRY AND HIDDENNESS: THOREAU'S HOUND: Explorations of hiddenness go back to the beginning of literature. There is no paradise, no place of true completion, that does not include within its walls the unknown. In this lecture, Hirshfield explores the centrality and necessity of hiddenness in our lives, and elucidates both the uses of hiddenness and hidden meanings in the work of writers ranging from Homer to Cavafy, from Auden to Jack Gilbert. POETRY AND UNCERTAINTY: To be human is to be unsure, and if the purpose of poetry is to deepen the humanness in us, poetry will be unsure as well. This lecture illuminates the ways uncertainty - in poems, and in life - allows both broadened feeling and enlarged knowledge. Translations are central to this talk, which includes poems by Izumi Shikibu, Anna Swir, Fernando Pessoa and Paul Celan. POETRY AND THE CONSTELLATION OF SURPRISE: Poems preserve their inaugural newness in part because they are like the emotions - not object, but experience, event. Poems that last are those that do not lose the power to astonish. This lecture examines surprise as a central, unrecognised fulcrum of great poems. Three poems are then looked at in detail by Hirshfield as test-cases: "Ithaka" by C.P. Cavafy, "Oysters" by Seamus Heaney and "Nothing Gold Can Stay" by Robert Frost.
Jane Hirshfield's most recent book is COME, THIEF (Bloodaxe, 2012/Knopf 2011). Her previous book, AFTER (Bloodaxe, 2006/HarperCollins, 2006), was a Poetry Book Society Choice Selection and finalist for the T.S. Eliot Poetry Prize. It was named a best book of 2006 by the Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Financial Times. In 2005, Bloodaxe published EACH HAPPINESS RINGED BY LIONS: Selected Poems, which includes work from Hirshfield's first five U.S. poetry collections. She is also the author of HIDDENNESS, UNCERTAINTY, SURPRISE: THREE GENERATIVE ENERGIES IN POETRY, in the Bloodaxe Lecture Series (Bloodaxe/Newcastle University, 2007), and in the US a now-classic earlier collection of essays, NINE GATES: ENTERING THE MIND OF POETRY (HarperCollins, 1997). In 2011 she published an Amazon Kindle Single, THE HEART OF HAIKU, introducing the 17th century Japanese poet Basho and the 17-syllable poetic form he singlehandedly transformed into a brief word-vessel able to hold immense, varied, and subtle meanings.
Considered one of the foremost U.S. poets of her generation, Jane Hirshfield grew up in New York City and was part of the first class of women to graduate from Princeton University in 1973. She did a year of farm labor, then spent 8 years in the full time study of Zen Buddhism, including three years of monastic practice. Her poems began appearing regularly in magazines in the early 1980s, and have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, The New Republic, Poetry, The American Poetry Review, and seven editions of The Best American Poems; in the UK, her poems have appeared in The Times Literary Supplement (TLS), The Poetry Review, The Guardian, Poetry London, The Glasgow Herald, and elsewhere.
Hirshfield has taught at U.C. Berkeley, the Bennington MFA Writing Seminars, and elsewhere, but is not a full time academic. She lives in a small white cottage on the hem of Mount Tamalpais in the San Francisco Bay Area and appears frequently in literary festivals and writers conferences both in the U.S. and abroad, including in the UK Poetry International, Aldeburgh, StAnza, Ledbury, and serving as the first International Poet in Residence for the Wordsworth Trust in Grasmere. She is a current Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.