After reading the poems in Ledger—a capacious, varied volume—it seems as if ordinary life is richer and deeper than before, yet it is hard to pin down why. Her limpid style, sometimes riddling yet never obscure, provides part of the answer. With every word, Hirshfield allows us to enter her poems and feel at home there. Even when she challenges us most forcefully, she does so together with us, holding our gaze, inhabiting a shared space. Not for nothing does she see poetry as a vehicle for transformation—and yet the poetic speaker feels like a friend rather than a guide or moralist. Humility is often her very subject ... A Hirshfield poem is an exercise in opening the self. This is not an evacuation as much as an endless multiplication: until we see each character in a story as us, we will fall prey to the egregious human vices of hatred and prejudice ... an oeuvre that keeps offering more and challenging further. The value of such work is beyond question.
Granted, some poems are thorny, difficult tangles requiring significant work from the reader to comprehend. But some, like the ones in Jane Hirshfield’s new book...are small gifts: morsels of meaning that slide right past your poetry defenses and lodge in your head ... it’s a measured approach, calm and contemplative ... Hirshfield’s poems treat the natural world as something marvelous and rare, something to be cared for and loved ... This is what Hirshfield does so well: She gives you the observation of life as we’re all living it and the personal tragedy life entails, and then she slips in themes of planetary crisis. It’s the kind of gut punch good poems provide, the solid fist inside the velvet glove ... She is responsible with every word choice, every line a deliberate beat, each poem its own chrysalis of meaning ... This is a book to read front to back, then at random, then front to back again ... Hirshfield’s poems are no less rich for being generally likable and accessible. You don’t have to love poetry to love these poems. There is no secret key required to unlock them. They speak and we all hear them loud and clear.
We not only read to enjoy the poet’s craft; we pause for reflection to find what the poem means to us. This happens while reading Hirshfield more than most ... Slowing down is not a bad thing in poetry, and this is Hirshfield’s gift. We don’t swim through lyricism alone, or story — as in narration — with people, places, and things all acting on one another...Instead, we have lines that renew themselves for a second reading and more. And in the emptiness between the lines, we find our own completion. I cannot say enough about how a reader’s keen imagination is grateful for Hirshfield’s imaging ... Language is kept at a high bar with assessed value, and that, perhaps, is why this writer doesn’t waste it ... another invitation to find the many choices within ourselves.
... directly engages the urgent issues of our time ... [Hirshfield's] most activist book yet. Hirshfield draws on her Buddhist practice and honed poetic craft to look unflinchingly at the mess we are in, but also to find refuge...But the poet holds no megaphone or manifesto. There’s a mournful quality to the work, a quiet and elegiac composure. The book is a ledger of loss and loss-to-come. Its subject is grim, but it is not a grim book. It’s a stirring call to action’s antecedent—awareness.
Her stark, powerful poems are crafted so simply they seem effortless. Constructed largely of nouns and verbs...t’s hard to understand how they manage to evoke such a range of emotion. And yet they do, with a voice that at times seems like an old world prophet, at times like a Zen Master ... Unlike many other political poems, these have a quiet force, all the more powerful for their calm exposition—they unfold with what feels like an inevitable logic and build with a power that deepens with each stanza. In these poems, Hirshfield, a Zen practitioner, strikes the match to the doused robes of protest; this work will be anthologized, read and reread ... Her unique voice is not brand new, but honed, sharpened ... What emerges as one reads this book is a sense of mourning for what’s lost, and a piercing delight in what is left.
... a six-part volume of poems, many short, which often feel fractured or seem to struggle with what they have to say. But there’s nothing tricksy about this intimate, tender free verse. As Hirshfield’s title poem tells us, the most important measure of anything is its meaning, and Ledger is a compassionate look at – and yes, elegy for – 'our catalogued vanishing unfinished heaven' ... Hirshfield perfectly captures our individual sense of lostness, faced with undeniable catastrophe, while invoking our collective responsibility.
Hirshfield’s ninth book of poetry is an elegy to her lost sister and the world she used to live in, the world that had her sister in it. The collection was strangely uplifting, however; Hirshfield deals with the challenging topic of death by creating poetry that finds wonder in mundanity ... Despite grappling with these complex ideas throughout the collection, Hirshfield makes room to play with form and sound ... She separates her own experience from the rest of the world, sending them briefly on two separate tracks. In this way, her poetry produces a curious dissociative effect which demonstrates the walls trauma can erect in a person ... Hirshfield writes with a respect for nature and a moving plea for environmentalism that is all the more effective after the many-pages-long emotional primer of her own personal loss ... Hirshfield’s subtle handling of environmental issues, rendered in masterful verse, forces the reader to think of climate change in terms of personal loss, rather than as an abstract and distant problem.
Hirshfield’s hand is deft ... an exploration of the capacity for life, its value and purpose ... a pleasure to read. Hirshfield’s collection does exactly what we expect, and a little more — more of the personal, more of the contemporary world and its problems, more transcendence through art.
Coming to recognize that we are all to some extent responsible for the ecological crisis is a fundamental theme in Ledger ... There are many such poems in Ledger. Hirshfield is probing and examining what it means to understand truly the situation we are in ... As troubled as these poems are, there is a counter-current running through Ledger, even in the most apocalyptic poems. Though brimming with a sense of urgency, the overall tone of the book is quiet, calm, meditative. One can almost hear thought and feeling at work in the white spaces. There is a mind constantly turning things over, stitching together what she knows, what she feels, what she recalls, and what she hopes for. She may be searching for answers and solutions to these troubles, but what the speaker achieves is a sense of the actual conditions of our existence on this planet ... A poet’s ledger offers no simple accounting of anything. Hirshfield wants to give as complete an accounting as possible of what she knows the ecological crisis is doing to the human mind, spirit, or soul.
Jane Hirshfield’s latest collection...presents readers a multifaceted, diverse, and experimental collection of poems that core the poet’s soul. The poems are deliberately delicate. Hirshfield provides a 'ledger' of precise images to admit her most intimate sentiments, many of which are personifications of the natural world. And she is not afraid ... Hirshfield takes risks. She is not afraid to write experimental poems that risk confusion ... Ledger records Hirshfield’s most intimate sentiment as she navigates her surroundings, some of which are so profound that words cannot describe them ... The collection is more geared toward adult poetry lovers, as many poems are very abstract. The poems are also diverse, ranging from simple to complex. Even so, everyone should crack the spine and challenge their poetics, to push the art of poetry beyond traditional mechanics into something entirely new and exciting.
If ever there was a collection of poems that speak to this moment — of a pandemic, of sheltering in place, of social distancing when we are desperately in need of connection, of the loss of anything that feels “normal” — it is Ledger.
... intimate poems of being ... Ledger perfectly embodies Hirshfield’s carefully weighted tone as she reckons with our constant subtraction of Earth’s life forces and incessant addition of carbon to our atmosphere, acid to our seas ... Hirshfield is tender, witty, philosophical, and clarion, knowing us to be creatures of yes and no, credits and debits.
The masterful ninth book from Hirshfield...is an account of how 'We did not-enough' to save the world ... Hirshfield urges a reckoning of human influence on—and interference with—the planet ... Hirshfield suggests that people are unable, or unwilling, to comprehend their role in their own destruction ... Hirshfield’s world is one filled with beauty, from the 'generosity' of grass to humanity’s connection to the muskrat. This is both a paean and a heartbreaking plea.