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.