Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Edward Hirsch's "Special Orders"

Mr. Hirsch was born in Chicago in 1950 and has written poetry, prose, and a popular prose book titled “How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry.” I picked up his collection of poems titled “Special Orders” at the library, published 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf.

In this collection, I enjoyed the fact that these poems were easy to read and were all heartfelt as Mr. Hirsch relates moments in his life. One of his poems, “Branch Library” can be listened to at this link: http://poetryfoundation.org/journal/audioitem.html?id=427
I enjoy this poem because when I first read it I thought of a book-loving lad burying himself in the shelves who visits the library daily. It’s a fairly short poem so it is hard to post the lines without posting too much of the poem, hence the link for listening. Mr. Hirsch explains which library in Chicago this poem was inspired from and that he discovered poetry in this library. One of my favorite images are from these lines: “pecking at nuts, nesting in broken spines, scratching/notes under his own corner patch of sky.” Who doesn’t think of school students scratching notes amongst dusty books they must read for class or research’s sake? It is a happy poem that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading in general.

Another poem I enjoyed is “Self-Portrait.” Before I go into the poem let me tell you that it came just after hearing a special on National Public Radio in which a researcher explained that Virginia Woolf’s style of writing mimicked the real human brain and how we are two selves rolled into one and how does our “self” explain this? In Woolf’s book, Mrs. Dalloway, you experience the free-flowing thoughts of Mrs. Dalloway and this researcher explained that our right and left sides of the brain are perfectly represented in Mrs. Dalloway’s thoughts and that Virginia Woolf had caught on to this dichotomy so that all humans ended up telling themselves an on-going novel to reconcile the differences between the left and right side’s wants/needs/ideas. Now, I tell you all this to explain that Mr. Hirsch’s poem describes a similar idea in a much smaller time frame, in fact, he does so in just over a page. The very first two lines are perfect for the example of what I mean: “I lived between my heart and my head,/like a married couple who can’t quite get along.” This grabbed my attention from the NPR special I’d heard. Then, Mr. Hirsch explains his body’s differences with “My left leg dawdles or danced along,/my right cleaved to the straight and narrow.” I think this is a fabulous example of how all of us have an internal war with ourselves and here Mr. Hirsch out-lines this all in a poem. After he explains his own dichotomy he goes on to expand out to the dawn of man and closes with the idea that in death, his two halves will reconcile with the lines “I suppose my left hand and my right hand/will be clasped over my chest in the coffin,/and I’ll be reconciled at last,/…” I’ve probably included too much of this poem but I found it absolutely fascinating in light of what I’d just heard on the radio and thought I’d share it all with you.

There are many fine poems in this collection and while they may seem simple at first they are all deeper in meaning at second glace. I hope you will pick up this book if you happen upon it and wish you happy reading. You may also find out more about Edward Hirsch using the link below.


As always, thank you for reading and please stop by tomorrow for more Poems Found by Poet Hound…


Dave King said...

Edward Hirsch is a poet new to me. Thanks for introducing him. I must do a bit of research.

Poet Hound said...

Hope you are able to find him among the shelves in your book-stores or library, I really enjoyed reading him.