Hirsch, Edward 1950-
Hirsch, Edward 1950-
Born January 20, 1950, in Chicago, IL; son of Kurt and Irma Hirsch; married Janet Landay (a museum curator), May 29, 1977; children: Gabriel. Education: Grinnell College, B.A., 1972; University of Pennsylvania, Ph.D., 1979.
Writer, poet, and educator. 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-c. 2002; John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, New York, NY, president, 2002—. Member of the education advisory committee of the Guggenheim Foundation. Member of the advisory board of the American Poetry and Literary Project.
Modern Language Association of America, Poetry Society of America, Authors League of America, Authors Guild, PEN, Phi Beta Kappa.
Watson fellow, 1972-73; Academy of American Poets awards, 1975-77; Amy Lowell traveling fellow, 1978-79; Ingram Merrill Award, Ingram Merrill Foundation, 1978-79, for poetry; American Council of Learned Societies fellow, 1981; National Endowment for the Arts creative writing fellowship, 1982; National Book Critics Circle Award nomination, 1982, for For the Sleepwalkers; Peter I.B. Lavan Younger Poets Award, Academy of American Poets, 1983; Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award, New York University, 1985; honorary doctor of humane letters, Grinell College, 1985; Guggenheim poetry fellowship, 1985-86; National Book Critics Circle Award, 1987, for Wild Gratitude; Rome Prize, American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, American Academy in Rome, 1988; William Riley Parker Prize, Modern Language Association, 1992; Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, 1993; Lyndhurst Prize, 1994-96; American Academy of Arts and Letters literature award, 1998; MacArthur fellow, 1998; Pablo Neruda Medal of Honor, 2004; honorary degrees from Elon College, 1994, Lawrence University, 2002, Macalester College, 2005, and Governors State University, 2006.
For the Sleepwalkers, Knopf (New York, NY), 1981.
Wild Gratitude, Knopf (New York, NY), 1986, reprinted, 2003.
The Night Parade, Knopf (New York, NY), 1989, reprinted, 2003.
Earthly Measures, Knopf (New York, NY), 1994.
On Love, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.
Lay Back the Darkness, Knopf (New York, NY), 2003.
(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.
The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2002.
(Editor, with Charles Baxter and Michael Collier) A William Maxwell Portrait: Memories and Appreciations, Norton (New York, NY), 2004
(Editor) Theodore Roethke, Selected Poems, Library of America (New York, NY), 2005.
Poet's Choice, Harcourt (New York, NY), 2006.
(Compiler and author of introduction) To a Nightingale, George Braziller Publishers (New York, NY), 2007.
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. Former author of "Poet's Choice," a weekly column for the Washington Post.
"I would like to speak in my poems with what the Romantic poets called ‘the true voice of feeling,’" Edward Hirsch once told CA. "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 has been highly acclaimed for his poetry collections, For the Sleepwalkers and Wild Gratitude. For the Sleepwalkers was nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1981, and Wild Gratitude won the award in 1987. The two 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." "I admire Edward Hirsch," wrote Phoebe Pettingell in the New Leader, "for his mystical vision, for the mastery he has … attained—and for his daring."
While many reviewers have applauded Hirsch's poetry, declaring that it exhibits tenderness, intelligence, and musicality that goes beyond mere technique, they have also recognized in his highly rhetorical style the propensity to "cross the borderline between effectiveness and excess," as Stitt asserted. For instance, Wojahn maintained that "Hirsch's tenderness [in Wild Gratitude] sometimes threatens to become merely ingratiating," and Hugh Seidman, in a New York Times Book Review article, thought that Hirsch's first work, For the Sleepwalkers, is "a poetry of narcissistic invention employing exaggerated tone and metaphor," an excess that Seidman believed is typical of much contemporary American poetry. Nevertheless, Parini insisted that Hirsch's poems "easily fulfill Auden's request that poems be, above all else, ‘memorable language.’" As Hirsch "learns to administer with lighter touch his considerable linguistic fertility," claimed Stitt, "he will surely grow into one of the important writers of our age."
The poems in Hirsch's third book, The Night Parade, continue with themes presented in his first two works, but stray from his stylistic and formal techniques, perhaps indicating a transitional period. Hirsch told CA: "Many of these poems are more meditative and narrative, linking the personal to the historical, contemplating the nature of family stories and expanding outward from there to consider the history and development of Chicago as a city." He added: "The passionate clarity of [my] style has not always met with critical approval." In the New York Times Book Review, Pat Monaghan in Booklist praised Hirsch's "sure sense of the line between emotion and sentimentality." New York Review of Books contributor Helen Vendler commented that "when Hirsch is not being historically stagy, he is being familially prosaic, as he recalls stories told by his parents," but she also thought Hirsch "capable of quiet, believable poems." She cited the poem "Infertility" from Hirsch's The Night Parade as the most believable poem of the book, and suggested: "This poem, I suspect, will turn up in anthologies. It touches a particular connection between religious longing and secular pessimism that belongs both to the hope and desolation it commemorates and to the moment of scientific possibility and disappointment in which we live."
In his fourth book of poems, Earthly Measures, Hirsch offers a collection focused on religious issues and imagery. Hirsch told CA: "If I were to describe [Earthly Measures], I would say that it is ‘god hungry.’ Earthly Measures is very much about what the soul does after hungering after God and He does not come. What does one do to fill the subsequent emptiness? The book begins in the dark wood with landscapes of ash and emptiness and hell. Throughout the book are elegies which point toward the loss of presence, power, and direction. The emptiness contains infertility but it is not defined by it. About halfway through the book it takes a turn—not toward celebration exactly, but a sort of agonized reconciliation. The tutelary figures are Simone Weil, Leopardi, and Hoffmansthal. The poems take the transformative and even redemptive powers of art seriously. Art stands against the emptiness. The book is about a soul-journey. It begins in ‘Uncertainty’ and concludes with an homage to the 17th century Dutch painters and their feeling for ‘Earthly Light.’ It is a pilgrim's progress struggling toward the light."
Reviewers had mixed opinions of Earthly Measures, with some critics praising the "god hungry" nature of the work and others terming the collection insufficiently nuanced. Writing in the New York Times Book Review, Patricia Hampl remarked: "The absence of God and the abundant presence of human desire reign over his book and form a passionately important inquiry into the nature of worship." Robert B. Shaw, commenting in Poetry, likewise praised the poems in the collection for being "accessible in subject, direct in phrasing, open in their expression of emotion, graced with a finely-tuned lyricism." Yet, Shaw noted, "the neo-Romantic tone and coloration makes for a sameness … so that the subjects lose something of their individuality in an all-purpose luminous haze." Hampl commended Hirsch for his achievement in Earthly Measures, noting: "These are poems of immense wonder and rigor. To say they are religious poems is only to recognize their grandeur and generosity, and their heartbreaking longing."
In the collection On Love, Hirsch takes the voice of some two dozen poets from the past, including such diverse writers as D.H. Lawrence, Charles Baudelaire, and Jimi Hendrix. He creates an imaginary conversation between them in which they discuss the subject of love. The verses in On Love prove "without question" that Hirsch is "heir to all the great poets of the past," wrote Donna Seaman in Booklist, adding that when writing about his own life, Hirsch achieves "lyric poems nearly incandescent in their sensuality." A reviewer for Publishers Weekly noted that when reading Hirsch's work, "one is always aware of a formidable intelligence; wide reading, and an ambition to connect the poet's own achievement with the great poetry of the past." While acknowledging the "controlled, precise, formally ambitious" quality of Hirsch's verse, the Publishers Weekly contributor faulted the poet's use of "a highly artificial premise, made more so by the incredibly strict forms." Yet Thomas F. Merrill in the Library Journal called On Love "often stunning" for its "complex evocations of the adopted voices as well as Hirsch's own insight."
In his 2003 collection of poems, Lay Back the Darkness, Hirsch provides "first-person meditations on life, death, faith, and family," according to Fred Muratori in the Library Journal. Hirsch also writes of children in a Nazi concentration camp and ruminates on Orpheus and Hades. Peter Davison, writing in the New York Times Book Review called the collection a "forthright epic of an honest man's mission to absorb and comprehend his life, the work of a good and faithful citizen." Several reviewers praised Hirsch's ability to lure readers into his world. For example, Donna Seaman wrote in Booklist that the author "embraces language as a mystical force, and he and his readers truly are transported." A Publishers Weekly contributor noted that the author "puts his vaunted formal skills to careful use, creating characters readers will recognize immediately."
Hirsch has also written prose works that have met with critical acclaim. In How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry, he collected verses from diverse times and places and then suggested ways to understand and appreciate the works. "The book is scholarly but very readable and incorporates interesting anecdotes from the lives of the poets," noted Ellen Sullivan in the Library Journal. Booklist's Donna Seaman wrote: "Hirsch, a truly gifted poet and scholar, brings the full heat of his literary passion to this enlightening and deeply moving journey into the heart of poetry." Seaman added that the author's "magnificent text is supported by an extensive glossary and superb international reading list."
Another work of prose that deals with the appreciation of literature, Hirsch's Responsive Reading presents two dozen essays on poets and poetry, many of which were previously published in the New Yorker. "Hirsch provides the nonspecialist with a satisfying amount of detail without distracting the reader from the delight of each close encounter," wrote Doris Earnshaw in World Literature Today. Earnshaw added: "His style is graceful."
In The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration, Hirsch explores the creative process, from an examination of inspirational forces to various artists' own reports on creativity. The author places special emphasis on the idea denoted by the Spanish word duende, that is, the impish-like force that brings authenticity and true emotion to artistic work. "Hirsch's analysis of artistic creativity is erudite, abstract, and occasionally overwhelming," wrote Amy Strong in the Library Journal. Other reviewers also praised the book. A Publishers Weekly contributor called The Demon and the Angel an "erudite exploration." In a review for Booklist, Donna Seaman noted that the author is "able to articulate the seemingly ineffable through brilliant critical analyses and empathic insights into artists' lives."
In 2004, Hirsch, Charles Baxter, and Michael Collier served as coeditors of A William Maxwell Portrait: Memories and Appreciations. The book contains various essays about the novelist and short-story writer, from biographical accounts of his boyhood to examinations of Maxwell's works. A Publishers Weekly contributor called the written portraits of Maxwell "affectionate and sometimes slightly awestruck."
Hirsch's column "Poet's Choice" appeared in the Washington Post for three years. The book Poet's Choice culls 130 essays from these writings. The various essays focus on poets and poetry from around the world, including emerging or underappreciated writers whom Hirsch admires. "A master appreciator, he likes nothing better than to introduce us to a poem and point to what he loves about it," wrote Mark Doty in O, the Oprah Magazine. Hirsch examines such notable poets as W.B. Yeats, Robert Bly, Denise Levertov, and Gary Snyder. Writing in America, John Savant noted: "Beyond its impressive array and geographical range of modern poets, well known and obscure, Poet's Choice abounds with passages from Sappho and Caedmon to Gerard Manley Hopkins and Rainer Maria Rilke; with critical notes from Aristotle to Harold Bloom; with relevant biographical anecdotes; and with selections that demonstrate his preference for ‘a poetry of radical directness, intense intellect, and deep emotional clarity.’"
Poet's Choice received considerable praise from reviewers. A Publishers Weekly contributor noted: "Eclectic and idiosyncratic, Hirsch's choices are unified by astute excerpting and keen commentary." Donna Seaman wrote in Booklist that "Hirsch's aesthetic is unerring, and his interpretations are profound." Other reviewers looked upon the book either as a solid education in poetry or a more esoteric look at the art. For example, Pam Kingsbury, writing in the Library Journal, commented: "A mini-course in world poetry, this accessible, learned, and relevant book is highly recommended." A Kirkus Reviews contributor, however, described Poet's Choice as "slim and scattered, but tasty, even exotic."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Literary Criticism, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), Volume 31, 1985, Volume 50, 1988.
Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 120: American Poets since World War II, Third Series, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992.
AB Bookman's Weekly, November 28, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 2281.
America, April 10, 2006, John Savant, review of Poet's Choice, p. 23.
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, p. 140.
Bloomsbury Review, March, 2000, interview with Edward Hirsch, pp. 15-16.
Booklist, 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, p. 1273; January 1, 2000, review of How to Read a Poem, p. 812; February 15, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration, p. 985; February 1, 2003, Donna Seaman, review of Lay Back the Darkness, p. 964; January 1, 2004, review of Lay Back the Darkness, p. 774; March 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of Poet's Choice, p. 55.
Choice, January, 2000, review of How to Read a Poem, p. 925.
Christian Century, June 13, 2006, review of Poet's Choice, p. 40.
Christian Science Monitor, December 9, 1994, review of Transforming Vision: Writers on Art, p. 11.
Chronicle of Philanthropy, October 17, 2002, David Whelan, "Poet's Winding Path Leads to a Job as a Foundation President," interview with author.
Commonweal, December 1, 1995, review of Earthly Measures, p. 20.
DoubleTake, Issue 6, review of How to Read a Poem.
Five Points, winter, 2000, interview with Edward Hirsch, pp. 58-74.
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; January 15, 2002, review of The Demon and the Angel, p. 86; February 1, 2006, review of Poet's Choice, p. 121.
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, p. 77; April 1, 2002, Amy Strong, review of The Demon and the Angel, p. 108; February 15, 2003, Fred Muratori, review of Lay Back the Darkness, p. 142; March 1, 2006, Pam Kingsbury, review of Poet's Choice, p. 86.
Nation, 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, Helen Vendler, review of The Night Parade, 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, Hugh Seidman, review of For the Sleepwalkers, p. 14; June 8, 1986, David Wojahn, review of Wild Gratitude, p. 38; January 28, 1990, Stephen Dobyns, review of The Night Parade, p. 26; May 15, 1994, Patricia Hampl, 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, p. 17; August 10, 2003, Peter Davison, review of Lay Back the Darkness, p. 10; August 24, 2003, brief review of Lay Back the Darkness, p. 18; July 17, 2005, Morris Dickstein, "A World Elsewhere," mention of A William Maxwell Portrait: Memories and Appreciations.
O, the Oprah Magazine, April, 2006, Mark Doty, review of The Poet's Choice, p. 216.
Poetry, May, 1986; December, 1994, Robert B. Shaw, review of Earthly Measures, p. 158; March, 1999, Peter Stitt, 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, p. 100; January 28, 2002, review of The Demon and the Angel, p. 284; February 17, 2003, review of Lay Back the Darkness, p. 71; June 14, 2004, review of A William Maxwell Portrait, p. 52; February 27, 2006, review of Poet's Choice, p. 51.
Rattle, summer, 2000, interview with Edward Hirsch, pp. 139-154.
Triquarterly, fall, 2003, Donna Seaman, "A Conversation with Edward Hirsch," p. 61.
Voice Quarterly Review, autumn, 1994, review of Earthly Measures, p. 133.
Wall Street Journal, April 2, 1999, review of How to Read a Poem, p. W6.
Washington Post Book World, 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; summer, 2000, Doris Earnshaw, review of Responsive Reading, p. 607.
Yale Review, July, 1998, review of On Love, p. 160.
Poets.org,http://www.poets.org/ (May 3, 2007), brief biography of author.