John Henry, the (steeldrv) Sun 21 Nov 99 20:55
Surprise! No one has mentioned horses yet. Carol reminded me when she quoted the cat poem. Horses have obviously been important to you, Jane, and it's reflected in (some of) your poems. How do horses inform/influence who you are, and how do they inform/influence your writing?
oddball parochial charm (norcalnative) Sun 21 Nov 99 23:37
Yes, I was very affected, on many levels, by your poem 'Mule Heart'. I am also fascinated by Ono No Komachi. Does the image of the Autumn Moon have many layers of meaning in Japanese poetry as it in the West?
jane hirshfield (jh) Mon 22 Nov 99 13:33
Second question first... yes, the moon, and the autumn moon, have a number of layers of meaning. The moon is, first of all, what it is: the moon. It also can mean the fullness of something, often love, or its absence, in the dark of the moon. Many times, but not always, it refers to the condition of Buddhist enlightenment (which I think is the case in the quoted poem). Autumn has the universal resonances--the poignant time of great beauty when things are drawing near their end. So again, the actual season, but also aging, or the end of a love affair, or the idea of transience in general, all hover around any mention of autumn. Horses have always been rich for my own poems. I've been asked why a lot, and I tend to think it's because they are both passionate creatures and also different enough from us that between them and us some kind of imaginative spark can arise. For an image to resonate in a poem, there often needs to be some kind of gap, just as with a spark plug--no difference, no space, no spark. So just as with that autumn moon above, when I write about horses I'm just about always writing about actual horses, but also something in that set of circumstances that speaks to something both human and personal. Mule Heart, but its very title, shows this dynamic--the mule is there (I had in mind the little mules of Santorini, in Greece, that I'd seen maybe ten years before writing the poem) but so is the human circumstance. Feeling the need for a certain kind of stubbornness to get through a difficult time, my mind turned to mule-nature, and to actual mules I had seen. And so the poem begins. Sometimes it originates more with the outer event--the poem "After Work," in which I feed two mares corncobs after getting off my cooking shift at Greens, began as stood in the field, under starlight, feeding the mares. I felt the pregnancy of it, and the next day, before going back into work, I wrote the poem. Sometimes, as with "Mule Heart," it originates with the inner condition, that then draws to itself some outer constellation. Neither way is better or worse than the other, but one of those two dynamics is how my poem-making mind seems to work.
M. J. Rose (anewanais) Tue 23 Nov 99 04:13
Forgive me for interrupting the flow here, but I have been away from the well and just discovered this conversation and am rivieted. Carol, your questons are insightful and provoking, Jane, your anwsers are rich, deep and quite generous. On a personal note, Jane's poetry has mattered to me since high school, when she was the editor of our shool's literary journal and I was one of her staff members. At fifteen I was impressed even her work - (I still have those issues of the Quill). Now I am moved, heartened and grateful for it.
David Chaplin-Loebell (dloebell) Tue 23 Nov 99 08:06
I love this comment: "The moon is, first of all, what it is: the moon." I think too many people forget this side of metaphor. A simple thing, but a beautiful one.
jane hirshfield (jh) Tue 23 Nov 99 12:04
Thank you both for those comments. I don't know that I do have those issues of the Quill, Melisse--and I suspect it's just as well I don't. Best to let one's youthful efforts have that vague glow of memory. Young writers' poetry has gotten so much better since then, as poets-in-the-schools program have brought into the educational system a little liberation of both technique and imagination. But my impression of myself as a young writer is that if I now read those poems, I wouldn't necessarily see a horse I'd be willing to bet on. Hardly matters--though it is useful when I myself work with highschool or junior high students to realize that there's no way to know which ones will keep writing, or take an interesting turn perhaps. I think that in poetry it's not necessarily the case that what kind of writer the person will turn out to be will be visible early on. Sometimes, sure; but not always. And yes, David--I think part of some of the trouble the general public can have with poetry at times is not knowing whether to take the literal level as literal. In most poems, one does better "believing the poem," as I call it. But in certain aesthetics, that will get you nowhere. And then there's the problem of poetry too often being taught as if it were a code to be broken rather than an experience to be entered into... I find it's best to read by entertaining the various possibilities and seeing which offers the most powerful experience--is the moon a moon? is it a symbol? is it both? can the two be separated? For me, even now to let the image of a full moon in a night sky (as I saw last night, wandering outside to gaze a little before going to bed) resonate: that is so powerful an experience, without any story attached at all... We see the moon, we feel. Or at least it is so for me. (I notice that as this interview goes on I've become a little more casual as a writer, and few typos are slipping in. Apologies for the "but" that should be "by," the fading syntax of certain sentences, etc.... For instance, even in this apology I notice that the word "a" is missing before the word "few" in its first sentence! Ah well.)
carol adair (rubicon) Tue 23 Nov 99 14:51
Ah. It's OK. Typos make us closer to conversation. What good questions! Really. We need more than one slant of light to see this poetry thing. Speaking of moons and horses. They do show up in your poetry as moons and horses, and they show up as ways to talk about other than moons and horses. I'm wondering now as we near the end of the interview, what you think you really write about. What boxes do you open over and over when you write? You know how Emily Dickinson had what she called her "flood subject" - immortality-? Stevie Smith's was suicide. Do you have a subject of which you never tire? And, while we are here, are there subjects that are not yours. Are there things that you would not go near in your poetry?
Indra Sinha (indra) Wed 24 Nov 99 01:00
Jane, Carol, I too find this conversation extremely illuminating, thank you. Anent the moon - Sartre said it was for him the most magical and poetic of symbols, until the instant that Neil Armstrong set foot on it, when its poetry fled, and it became just a dead lump of rock.
David Chaplin-Loebell (dloebell) Wed 24 Nov 99 06:24
jane hirshfield (jh) Wed 24 Nov 99 10:05
Re my subject matter, I will have to answer a good question with a non- responsive reply... For me to live in this world as a writer, it seems necessary for me not to look at my own work at quite that level of objectivity. There is a kind of taboo in me about it, which I think stems from the sense that if I categorized myself to myself, I would then be caught by the categorization, like an insect trapped in cognitive amber. I am perfectly happy to look at other poets' work and see their abiding obsessions; the taboo only applies to myself. If I thought I knew what kind of poem I write, I might be destined to repeat that over and over, boring myself, boring others. There is too, the feeling I have about poem-writing that it is always an act of exploration, of discovering something I didn't already know. Who I am shifts from moment to moment, year to year. What I can perceive does as well. A new poem peers into mystery, into whatever lies just beyond the edge of knowable ground. If that feeling were to vanish, the life of the imagination would become for me what the moon became for Sartre. Perhaps I am as foolish in this area as he was in his, but that isn't the point; certainly I'll allow that I may be as idiosyncratic in my feelings in this matter as he was in his. But if you, Carol, or anyone else, would like to formulate an opinion, that's fine with me. Even if it's bull's-eye correct, I'm sure it will wash right over me, just as suggestions that his poems were perhaps death-driven washed over Frost. So Carol, out with it! I suspect you do have something in mind here, should you wish to say.
carol adair (rubicon) Wed 24 Nov 99 17:12
I really didn't have anything in mind. I still wonder if you have subjects that you avoid, that you think are not yours to explore.
jane hirshfield (jh) Wed 24 Nov 99 17:48
Well, there are things I haven't written about yet and kinds of writing that I can't at the moment imagine myself doing (confessional/autobiographical in the factual sense), but who knows what the future may bring? I would hate to rule anything out as possible terrain, or define anything as not-mine, or not poetry's. But the way poems come to me, avoidance is hardly an issue. Much more applicable is the question of what might approach... if something comes, I'll do my best to take it in. Ten years ago I probably would have shuddered if someone had told me I'd do a large number of poems in which the words "the heart" would appear; three years ago I wouldn't have imagined myself entertaining quite so many household objects in my poems as currently appear. If someone had proposed to me the exercise "write a poem about a button," I'd have gagged. (The doing of exercises itself is pretty problematic for me, I'll add.) But now I have a poem about a button. I have a poem about shame--something else I'd have thought quite inconceivable, until I wrote the one I did. I have a poem about "obsolete" technologies-- again, a topic I'd never have imagined myself taking on. (And by the way, some Well members may remember me researching that one in the "Ask the Experts" topic in the news conference; I also used that topic to research a poem about ink...) I'm cut from one cloth in this matter: no ideas about what I do, and no ideas about what I don't do--this seems to me the fertile path.
carol adair (rubicon) Wed 24 Nov 99 21:36
So interesting. I can understand that. My grandmother used to quote an old saying, "Never name the well, from which you will not drink." Of course all she ever quoted was the first part, "Never name the well...." And she meant it as a warning never to say never. She wanted us to know that the thing we name, comes up to greet us by morning. Still, we can say, "Until now, it seems that true confessions are not for me." Maybe we can't.
carol adair (rubicon) Wed 24 Nov 99 21:43
On another subject. Can I throw you a question I've always wanted to ask you? I'm thinking of Wallace Stevens' poem, "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird" You write about this poem (and others) in Nine Gates. Stevens' writes: I do not know which to prefer, The beauty of inflections Or the beauty of innuendoes, The blackbird whistling Or just after. And you, in your poetry and in your life, which do you prefer? The blackbird whistling ... or just after? (It really does make a big difference.)
jane hirshfield (jh) Thu 25 Nov 99 10:07
Your grandmother was a wise woman. Tempted though I am to stand with Stevens and say, "I do not know," tempted though I am to be a proper student of Zen and say, "The blackbird whistling," i.e., the present moment, which is the only moment in which our lives occur, tempted though I am to say, "just after," in which the multiple possibilities of our human responses can arise one and then another and then another, each dwelling for its instant on the tongue tip, each allowing the universe to multiply within us, I will simply side with the existence of blackbirds in any universe they choose to grace us in. I am grateful for all of it: the outer and the inner, the thing itself and the thing in us, and the dissolving of those distinctions as well as the pleasures of them. By way of a different answer, an early poem: Dialogue A friend says, "I'm always practicing to be an old woman." Another answers, "I see myself young, maybe fourteen." But when I lean to that mirror a blackbird wing rises, dark, flashing red at the shoulder, and no woman is there to pin flowers over the place where her left breast lifts, falls. (From "Of Gravity & Angels")
Erik Van Thienen (levant) Thu 25 Nov 99 10:49
Jane, this is a post and a poem with several layers, alternate universes hiding behind each and every image, to be savoured at ease, without the pressure to analyse and to judge. Thanks.
jane hirshfield (jh) Fri 26 Nov 99 08:38
and thank *you*. By the way, this interview's allotted time slot is now completed, and I'll be offline for a week or so starting Monday... so I'll be here over the next few days to see if there's any conversation still going on, but then I imagine we will draw gracefully, or ungracefully, to a close. Thanks for being here--and on to the next interviewee, who will no doubt appear as topic 56 any minute now.
Evan Hodgens (evan) Fri 26 Nov 99 08:44
Thank you both for this topic.
Katherine Branstetter (kathbran) Fri 26 Nov 99 08:52
Yes, thanks, Jane and Carol for what will certainly remain one of the star interviews on Inkwell.vue for a looooong time.
carol adair (rubicon) Fri 26 Nov 99 09:23
How quick of you Jane. Before I got out of bed. Yes, this is the end of a very interesting interview. Thank you.
Just some misplaced Joan of Arc (strega) Fri 26 Nov 99 10:42
A wonderful conversation, thank you both, and everyone who participated.
Reva Basch (reva) Sun 28 Nov 99 15:17
Thanks from me, too. This was wonderful.
jane hirshfield (jh) Sun 28 Nov 99 18:04
You are each and all very welcome-- Reva, enjoy topic 56! (What a various universe this inkwell.vue is!)
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 30 Nov 99 22:54
I loved every moment of this interview! Every word of it was poetry. Thank you.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Wed 1 Dec 99 09:54
Indeed a gorgeous read. Thanks, Jane and Carol.
Members: Enter the conference to participate