My friend Moye and I went out to dinner last night to celebrate her birthday and listen to the poet Jane Hirshfield at the Grand Central Library. We ate outdoors at a fancy restaurant that sits in the courtyard of the library. The night was beautiful and breezy. We ate French onion soup and kale salad and some kind of lamb dish with papardelle that I couldn't finish because I was full. We laughed, as always, and shared our lives. Moye is easily the kindest, most gentle woman I know who is also staggeringly talented and funny. Honestly, she might be perfect. Later, we sat next to each other in the small auditorium, our shoulders touching in the small seats, and I wondered at the beauty of the nearly forty years that have passed since we first met and the many times we sat together in English classes throughout middle and high school, listening to poems and teachers. We've gray-streaked hair and crows' feet now, yet we share a raucous sense of humor and love for what's beautiful.
I don't know Jane Hirshfield's poetry well, but I have read a few of her spare and beautiful poems over the years and recently savored an interview with her in Tricyle Magazine. In addition to being a poet, Hirshfield is also an ordained practitioner of Soto Zen Buddhism. Here's an excerpt from the Tricycle interview:
At any moment in a life, a person has this choice: presented with suffering, do we try to escape or to enter it further? Art’s gate is deciding to move toward entrance and not absence, and that choice has been a fundamental and shaping force in my life. We can’t sleepwalk through suffering: by its own definition, suffering is insufferable, unbearable, and so must be worked with. Since childhood, the way I’ve worked with it is by turning toward the gate of entrance: by writing poems.
Here's a poem:
As a Hammer Speaks to a Nail
When all else fails,
fail with conviction,
as a hammer speaks to a nail,
or a lamp left on in daylight.
If two does not follow,
say three, if that fails, say life,
lacking iron, try shadow.
If shadow too fails,
if your voice falls and falls and keeps falling,
meets only air and silence,
say one again,
but say it with greater conviction,
as a nail speaks to a picture,
as a hammer left on in daylight.
Here's what she wrote in my copy of her new book, The Beauty: