Jane Hirshfield

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Jane Hirshfield
Hirshfield in 2011
Born (1953-02-24) February 24, 1953 (age 69)
New York City
Alma mater Princeton University
Genre Poetry

Jane Hirshfield (born 24 February 1953)[1] is an American poet, essayist, and translator.

Life and work

Jane Hirshfield was born on East 20th Street, New York City. She received her bachelor's degree from Princeton University in the school's first graduating class to include women.

Hirshfield's seven books of poetry have each received numerous awards. Her fifth book, Given Sugar, Given Salt, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and her sixth collection, After, was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize (UK) and named a 'best book of 2006' by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Financial Times. She has written a book of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. The Ink Dark Moon, her co-translation of the work of the two foremost women poets of classical-era Japan, was instrumental in bringing tanka (a 31-syllable Japanese poetic form) to the attention of American poets. She has edited four books collecting the work of poets from the past and is noted as being "part of a wave of important scholarship then seeking to recover the forgotten history of women writers."[2] She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985, the Academy of American Poets’ 2004 Fellowship for Distinguished Achievement, a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 2005, and the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Award in American Poetry in 2012.

Never a full-time academic, Hirshfield has taught at the University of California, Berkeley, University of San Francisco, The Bennington Writing Seminars, and as the Elliston Visiting Poet at the University of Cincinnati. She has also taught at many writers conferences, including Bread Loaf and The Napa Valley Writers Conference and has served as both core and associate faculty in the Bennington Master of Fine Arts Writing Seminars.[3] Hirshfield appears frequently in literary festivals both in America and abroad, including the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, the National Book Festival, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books, Poetry International (London, UK), the China Poetry Festival (Xi'an, China), and the Second International Gathering of the Poets [Kraków, Poland]. She is also a contributing editor at The Alaska Quarterly Review and Ploughshares, a former guest editor of The Pushcart Prize Anthology and an advisory editor at Orion and Tricycle.

In 2012, Hirshfield was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.[4]

In 1979, Hirshfield received lay ordination in Soto Zen at the San Francisco Zen Center.[5]


David Baker described Hirshfield as "one of our finest, most memorable contemporary poets"[6] and Laureate Kay Ryan called Hirshfield "a true person of letters".[3][7] Hirshfield’s poetry has often been described as sensuous, insightful, and clear. In the award citation for Hirshfield’s 2004 Academy of American Poets’ Fellowship, Rosanna Warren noted

"Hirshfield has elaborated a sensuously philosophical art that imposes a pause in our fast-forward habits of mind. Her poems appear simple, and are not. Her language, in its cleanliness and transparency, poses riddles of a quietly metaphysical nature. Clause by clause, image by image, in language at once mysterious and commonplace, Hirshfield's poems clear a space for reflection and change. They invite ethical awareness, and establish a delicate balance."[3]

The comment is echoed by the Polish Nobel Prize poet Czeslaw Milosz, who wrote, "A profound empathy for the suffering of all living beings... It is precisely this I praise in the poetry of Jane Hirshfield. The subject of her poetry is our ordinary life among other people and our continuing encounter with everything Earth brings us: trees, flowers, animals, and birds…In its highly sensuous detail, her poetry illuminates the Buddhist virtue of mindfulness.”[8]

Hirshfield’s poetry reflects her immersion in a wide range of poetic traditions, both Asian and Western, interests found also in the essays of Nine Gates. Polish, Scandinavian, and Eastern European poets have been particularly important to her, along with the poetry of Japan and China. Zbigniew Herbert’s poem, “Pebble” was an influence on Hirshfield’s small studies, also called pebbles, included in After and Come, Thief.[9]

Hirshfield’s work consistently explores themes of social justice and environmental awareness, specifically the belief that natural world and human world are inextricably linked. Mark A. Eaton noted in The Dictionary of Literary Biography that "Hirshfield's work recognizes the full breadth and responsibilities of humans' transactions with the earth, not just the intimacies.” In a review of her seventh collection,Come, Thief, Afaa M. Weaver wrote that her poems “find a middle ground between the larger landscape of political conflict and the personal landscape of our need to connect with one another.” [10]

An article in Critical Survey of Poetry (2002) summarized the effect of Zen on Hirshfield’s work:

“Little of her poetry is political in the usual sense of direct comment on specific issues, but all her work is political in the sense of integrating the stirrings of the heart, with the political realities that surround all people. Undoubtedly, the source for these characteristics of her poetry, and for her very concept of what poetry is, “the magnification of being,” derives from her strong Zen Buddhist training. Her emphasis on compassion, on the preexistent unity of subject and object, on nature, on the self-sufficient suchness of being, and on the daunting challenge of accepting transitoriness, as Peter Harris notes, are central themes in her poetry derived from Buddhism. Hirshfield does not, however, burden her poetry with heavy, overt Zen attitudes. Only occasionally is there any direct reference."[11]

While many reviewers mention, even make central, Hirshfield’s Buddhism as the prevailing filter of her work, Hirshfield has expressed frustration in multiple interviews with being so labeled. “I always feel a slight dismay if I’m called a “Zen” poet. I am not. I am a human poet, that’s all.” [12] Lisa Russ Spaar has called Hirshfield "a visionary", continuing: “It is arguable that the riddle, the existential joke of being, of meaning, of Dickinson’s “prank of the Heart at play on the Heart,” is as powerful a source as song for the lyric poem. Central to Hirshfield’s vision is a kind of holy delight that is at the heart of riddles and koans”.[13]

Other reviewers note the investigative nature of Hirshfield’s poems, in which life is approached as a puzzle which is not quite solveable. In a review of Come, Thief in The Georgia Review, Judith Kitchen wrote “Jane Hirshfield's felt longing elevates description to insight: not self-knowledge, less fleeting than that... something more encompassing, more akin to the indefinable suddenly given expression."[14]

For all her focus on insight and the unknowable, as early as 1995, Stephen Yenser noted in The Yale Review Hirshfield’s interest in the empirical. ”The probably unspeakeable plenitude of the empirical world: Jane Hirshfield’s poems recognize it at every point.”[15] In a Booklist starred review, Donna Seaman has more recently noted Hirshfield’s “meticulous reasoning, including a striking meditation on the paradoxical richness of spareness that can serve as her ars poetica.”[16]

Hirshfield’s poems reflect her long-standing interest in biology, as well as physics and other fields of science. She was the 2013 Hellman Visiting Artist in the Neuroscience department at The University of California, San Francisco, a program “created to foster dialogue between scientists, caregivers, patients, clinicians and the public regarding creativity and the brain.” [17]

While her work looks deeply at the inner world of the self and emotions, Hirshfield has kept most of the details of her private life out of both her poems and her public life as a poet, preferring that her work stand on its own.

Hirshfield's work has been published in The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, The Nation, the Los Angeles Times, the Times Literary Supplement, many literary journals, and multiple volumes of The Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies.[18] Her poems have frequently been read on various National Public Radio programs, and she was featured in two Bill Moyers PBS television specials, The Sounds of Poetry and Fooling With Words. An interview with Hirshfield on the occasion of the publication of "The Beauty" and "Ten Windows" in March 2015 was published in SF Gate.[19]




  • Hirshfield, Jane (1982). Alaya. Quarterly Review of Literature. ISBN 0614063973.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Of Gravity & Angels (HarperCollins, 1988), winner of the California Book Award in Poetry
  • The October Palace (HarperCollins, 1994), winner of the Poetry Center Book Award
  • The Lives of the Heart (HarperCollins,1997), winner of the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award
  • Given Sugar, Given Salt (HarperCollins, 2001), finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award
  • Pebbles & Assays (Brooding Heron Press), 2004
  • Each Happiness Ringed by Lions (Bloodaxe Books UK, 2005)
  • After (HarperCollins, 2006), (Bloodaxe Books UK, 2006)
  • Come, Thief: Poems. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 5 February 2013. ISBN 978-0-375-71207-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • The Beauty: Poems. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. 17 March 2015. ISBN 978-0-385-35108-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

List of poems

Title Year First published Reprinted/collected in
In a kitchen where mushrooms were washed 2011 Hirshfield, Jane (Fall 2011). "In a kitchen where mushrooms were washed". Ploughshares. 37 (2&3).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Hirshfield, Jane (2013). "In a kitchen where mushrooms were washed". In Henderson, Bill (ed.). The Pushcart Prize XXXVII : best of the small presses 2013. Pushcart Press. p. 295.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
Husband 2015 Hirshfield, Jane (April 13, 2015). "Husband". The New Yorker. 91 (8): 48. Retrieved 2015-06-21.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Komachi, Ono no; Shikibu, Izumi (1990). Hirshfield, Jane; Aratani, Mariko (eds.). The ink dark moon : love poems by Ono no Komachi and Izumi Shikibu, women of the ancient Court of Japan. Vintage Classics.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Hirshfield, Jane, ed. (1994). Women in praise of the sacred : forty-three centuries of spiritual poetry by women. Vintage Classics.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Jane Hirshfield (26 August 1998). Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0-06-092948-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Honors and awards

  • The Poetry Center Book Award
  • The California Book Award
  • Fellowship, Guggenheim Foundation
  • Fellowship, Rockefeller Foundation,
  • Fellowship, Academy of American Poets
  • Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts
  • Columbia University's Translation Center Award
  • Commonwealth Club of California Poetry Medal
  • Bay Area Book Reviewers Award
  • Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement from The Academy of American Poets (2004)
  • Finalist, T. S. Eliot Prize
  • Finalist, National Book Critics Circle Award
  • Elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, (2012)[22]


  1. Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 342: Twentieth-Century American Nature Poets. A Bruccoli Clark Layman Book. Edited by J. Scott Bryson, Mount St. Mary's College, Los Angeles, and Roger Thompson, Virginia Military Institute. Gale, 2008. pp. 178-184.
  2. Mark A. Eaton, "Twentieth-Century American Nature Poets". Ed. J. Scott Bryson and Roger Thompson. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 342. Detroit: Gale, 2008.)
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Jane Hirshfield profile, Academy of American Poets, accessed January 15, 2007
  4. http://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poet/jane-hirshfield
  5. Busch, Colleen Morton. Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire. Penguin Books. p. 15. ISBN 978-0-14-312137-4.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. David Baker, The American Poet, spring, 2005.
  7. Kay Ryan, from the Academy of American Poets' New Chancellor 2012 Press Release, reprinted in The American Poet
  8. Czeslaw Milosz, Prze Kroj (Poland), quoted in Reader's Almanac, Library of America October 12, 2012
  9. Best American Poetry, September 23, 2011, "A Conversation between Brian Bouldrey & Jane Hirshfield", Pt. 3
  10. Orion Magazine, November/December, 2011
  11. Ploughshares "About Jane Hirshfield: A Profile ", Peter Harris, 2012
  12. 2013 "Poet Jane Hirshfield on the Mystery of Existence", Spirituality Health, March–April 2013
  13. "Three by Jane Hirshfield", The Chronicle of Higher Education, September 24, 2011
  14. Kitchen, Judith. "Jane Hirshfield's Come, Thief". The Georgia Review Summer 2012. Retrieved 7 April 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Stephen Yenser, The Yale Review (April 1995) pp147-152
  16. Napa Writers Conference, profile
  17. Hellman Visiting Artist Program, UCSF Memory and Ageing centre, profile
  18. Hirshfield profile at HarperCollins Web site, accessed January 15, 2006
  19. [1]
  20. Heart of Haiku
  21. http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/05/25/caution-world-changing-poetry-at-work.html
  22. Elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets

External links