Poetry Book Society Recommendation
Jane Hirshfield is a visionary American writer whose poems ask nothing less than what it is to be human. Both sensual meditations and passionate investigations of our shared and borrowed lives, they reveal complex truths in language luminous and precise. In an era of algorithm, assertion and induced distraction, Jane Hirshfield’s poems bring a much-needed awakening response, actively countering narrowness.
The Asking includes work from her earlier retrospective, Each Happiness Ringed by Lions (2005), as well as drawing upon four later collections, After (2006), Come, Thief (2012), The Beauty (2015) and Ledger (2020), along with a selection of 31 new poems. The book takes its title from the close of one of those new poems: ‘don’t despair of this falling world, not yet / didn’t it give you the asking’.
Interrogating language and life, pondering beauty amid bewilderment and transcendence amid transience, Hirshfield offers a signature investigation of the conditions, contradictions, uncertainties and astonishments that shape our existence. A leading advocate for the biosphere and the alliance of science and imagination, she brings to both inner and outer quandaries an abiding compass: the choice to embrace what is, to face with courage, curiosity, and a sense of kinship whatever comes.
In poems that consider the smallest ant and the vastness of time, hunger and bounty, physics, war and love in myriad forms, this collection brings the insights and slant-lights that come to us only through poetry’s arc, delve and tact; through a vision both close and sweeping; through music-inflected thought and recombinant leap.
With its quietly magnifying brushwork and numinous clarities, The Asking expands our awareness of both breakage’s grief and the possibility for repair.
'Jane Hirshfield’s poems often feel like whole landscapes, graciously embracing the widest view and the tiniest sequins at once . . . Her longtime practice of Soto Zen Buddhism and her commitments to scientific knowledge and respect blend to create some of the most important poetry in the world today.' - Naomi Shihab Nye, The New York Times Magazine
'The most important measure of anything is its meaning... Hirshfield perfectly captures our individual sense of lostness, faced with undeniable catastrophe, while invoking our collective responsibility.' - Fiona Sampson, The Guardian
‘Hirshfield’s writing is always sensuous and focused: at the same time, her Zen-influenced deep absorption in things seen and sensed is often unsettled by a further, philosophical line of inquiry. This leads to new insights, but not necessarily an easy resolution.’ – Carol Rumens, Poem of the Week, The Guardian
‘Jane Hirshfield is a poet very close to my heart.’ – Wislawa Szymborska
‘A profound empathy for the suffering of all living beings…It is precisely this that I praise in the poetry of Jane Hirshfield…In its highly sensuous detail, her poetry illuminates the Buddhist virtue of mindfulness.’ – Czeslaw Milosz, Prze Kroj (Poland)
Jane Hirshfield reads seven poems
Jane Hirshfield reads seven poems from Each Happiness Ringed by Lions: Selected Poems (2005) and After (2006): ‘Pyracantha and Plum’, ‘The Envoy’, ‘The Poet’, ‘The Weighing’, ‘Burlap Sack’, ‘Tree’ and ‘It Was Like This: You Were Happy’. Pamela Robertson-Pearce filmed Jane Hirshfield in London in October 2006 when she was visiting London to read at Poetry International. This film is from the DVD-anthology In Person: 30 Poets, filmed by Pamela Robertson-Pearce & edited by Neil Astley (Bloodaxe Books, 2008).
North America: Alfred A. Knopf
Ireland: Click here to order from Books Upstairs in Dublin