'A Poet Is Quite Prepared For A Pandemic,' Says 'Ledger' Author Jane Hirshfield National Book Award finalist Jane Hirshfield helps us close the book on National Poetry Month by reading her favorite listener-submitted Twitter poems.
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'A Poet Is Quite Prepared For A Pandemic,' Says 'Ledger' Author Jane Hirshfield

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'A Poet Is Quite Prepared For A Pandemic,' Says 'Ledger' Author Jane Hirshfield

'A Poet Is Quite Prepared For A Pandemic,' Says 'Ledger' Author Jane Hirshfield

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now, sadly, it's time for our final National Poetry Month conversation - for this year, anyway. All this month, we've been asking listeners to tweet us their poems. And each week, we've read through some of the submissions with a celebrated poet. To help us wrap up the month, we are joined now by Jane Hirshfield. She's written numerous collections of poetry. Her latest, "Ledger," was published just last month. And she's with us now from Mill Valley, Calif., a safe distance away, sadly. Jane, thanks so much for joining us.

JANE HIRSHFIELD: It's lovely to be here. Thank you.

MARTIN: Before we jump into the poems, these are challenging times. And you were actually asked to write a poem for the San Francisco Chronicle as the first shelter-in-place orders were being put into place. The poem is called "Today, When I Could Do Nothing." I was wondering if the pandemic has changed the way you write, has changed anything about the way you think about poetry or how you do it.

HIRSHFIELD: For me, poems are always a way to respond to some challenge, some question. And so in a way, a poet is quite prepared for a pandemic because we're always trying to look into the most difficult things and find a way to navigate to a deeper relationship to those events.

MARTIN: Oh, good thought then. OK. Well, let's jump right in then. What's the first poem that caught your attention?

HIRSHFIELD: I'm going to talk about two together first because they have a similar image and theme and way of speaking into this time of pandemic pause. The first is by Sari Grunstuff (ph). And it goes - (reading) springtime pandemic, though everything is closed down, daffodils open.

And the second, by Barry Goodman (ph) - (reading) even when there is no one around to see them, the flowers still bloom with all their might. Oh.

MARTIN: Oh, thank you. What caught your attention? What caught your ear here?

HIRSHFIELD: Two things. One is I love the way that both poems are describing the same thing completely differently. The springtime pandemic one is a classic haiku. And in the way of haiku, it gives you the facts and then lets the reader feel for themselves the deeper meaning. The other poem has a little more human presence and a little more opinion in it. And I found those flowers blooming with all their might incredibly dear. It's as if nature itself were working hard to reassure us that resilience and beauty are still right here all around us, supporting us in this difficult time in ways without limit.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for that. All right. How about one more?

HIRSHFIELD: This is a poem by Daniel Druttin (ph). (Reading) She drizzles honey over cheese, says bees fly 55,000 miles to make a pound. Our river coils to another that spills into the ocean I've never seen.

What I love about this poem is this poem takes place completely inside the human world. There's a kitchen. People are eating. And these are both foods that are made by the transformation of something simple - pollen and grass - into something complex and amazing - honey and cheese. And they're brought together in the mouth exactly the way the images of a poem are brought together to make something also complex and amazing and sustaining. And, again, like the other two poems, I love its reminder that the whole world is working at every moment to keep existence going.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, this is, sadly, our last weekend where we're celebrating Poetry Month for this year. Usually, we ask poets to share tips on writing, but I'd like to ask you as we conclude for this year why you think poetry matters at a time like this.

HIRSHFIELD: I think poetry matters because it offers a changed relationship to any moment that we find ourselves in. The fabric of a good poem is always going to look at things from more than one direction and more than one side. And I think that multiplicity brings to our spirits and hearts and minds and even bodies a greater sense of freedom. Poems are vessels of shift, and they hold the reminder that there's always more possibility than we can imagine. Every image, every thing, every person described reminds us that our fates go forward together. This is an invaluable reassurance and an invaluable enlargening (ph) of the spirit.

MARTIN: Well, that is a lovely way to send us off for the year. That was poet and author Jane Hirshfield. Her latest book of poetry, "Ledger," is out now. Thank you so much for joining us today.

HIRSHFIELD: It's been a great honor. Thank you.

MARTIN: And we'd like to give a special thank you to all of the listeners who submitted poems this month. We appreciate you. We hope you'll keep writing and keep sharing. And we hope to hear from you next year.

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