Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Jane Hirshfield and Moye

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 boldly,
fail with conviction,
as a hammer speaks to a nail,
or a lamp left on in daylight.

Say one.
If two does not follow,
say three, if that fails, say life,
say future.

Lacking future,
try bucket,
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.

Jane Hirshfield

Here's what she wrote in my copy of her new book, The Beauty:


  1. Sounds like a perfect evening.
    "Fail boldly/fail with conviction."

  2. Here writing here is provocative. Unfortunately I cannot read what she wrote in your book. Isn't great to have such long-lasting friendships?

    1. She wrote, "In gladness on this path we share."

  3. I adore Jane. I've worked with her at Napa Valley Writers Workshop and have read most of her poetry, and some of her essays. She is a very good teacher…clear and compassionate. If you ever can work with her, I recommend it.

  4. Wow! I love all of this - the lasting friendship, the dinner description, and that poem. Wow. I always have you to thank for getting me to like poetry. I never once cared for it a whit until I read the poems you highlight here. Thank you.

  5. I just had a meeting w a family using cannabis and their entire treatment team, including 3 drs. I'll be blogging about how horrific the meeting went. But this poem so strongly calls this broken mother I was there to support to mind. Back to ONE!!!!.

  6. I think I remember hearing about Jane Hirshfield when I was an active Soto Zen practitioner, though I don't really know her poems. It sounds like a terrific night out! Nothing can replace old friends, you know?

  7. Nothing like a friend who was there beside us as we became more completely who we are. Moye sounds and is just lovely. I wish I could read the inscription in your book. I rather like the swoosh of her handwriting.

    1. She wtote, "in gladness on this path we share."

  8. I put a magnifying glass up to the computer....ahh, what a lovely thing to say.

    There's nothing like a life long friend, especially when she is true and wise and funny ! I'm glad for you and your night out - sounds like just what you needed.



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