11 February 2015: Acclaimed poet Jane Hirshfield visits Yale-NUS College

Written by Jacqueline Su | Image by Erika Terrones Shibuya

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On 4 February 2015, Yale-NUS College hosted acclaimed poet Ms Jane Hirshfield who read from her collections as part of the President’s Speaker Series. Over the course of the evening, Ms Hirshfield shared glimpses into her creative process and briefly spoke about her time in the San Francisco Zen Center.

During her reading, Ms Hirshfield shared poems from her seven collections of poetry and touched on a variety of subjects, including nature, science, music, sadness, and the rituals of habit. One of the first poems she shared, entitled “For What Binds Us”, was characterised as her “love poem that became a diplomacy poem”, excerpted:

And when two people have loved each other

see how it is like a

scar between their bodies,

stronger, darker, and proud;

how the black cord makes of them a single fabric

that nothing can tear or mend.

She shared that poets often have certain things that they continually return to. One of her personal themes is “finding a way to say yes to things one would prefer to say no to – the difficulties, the griefs, the losses, the transients”. From “The Weighing”: “So few grains of happiness/ measured against all the dark/ and still the scales balance.”

After her reading, Ms Hirshfield took questions from the audience, including a question from Yale-NUS President Pericles Lewis, who was a literature professor at Yale before taking up his current position. He asked about re-experiencing poems years after they were written, to which Ms Hirshfield answered: “A poem is a vessel for the recreation of an experience, which is relatively stable. So I experience the poems I love – they are explosions held in a bottle…they are perfumes in a stoppered vial, which you can return to, and pull the stopper and have, for a moment, this very powerful experience, which will then evaporate in the air.”

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President Pericles Lewis with Ms Jane Hirshfield during the Question & Answer.

During her visit at Yale-NUS, Ms Hirshfield also hosted a poetry-writing workshop where students had the opportunity to share their work and hone their creative writing skills.

Roshan Singh, Class of 2018, highlighted that a key concept from the workshop was “the idea that a good poem is one that simultaneously gets the reader thinking but shows enough confidence and misdirection to assure the reader that there is meaning.”

Ms Hirshfield’s seven collections of poetry include Given Sugar, Given Salt, Pebbles & Assays, and her latest, Come, Thief, published in 2011. Her collections have been nominated for various awards, including the T.S. Eliot Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award. She has also been awarded fellowships from a number of different organisations, including the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Ms Hirshfield has two forthcoming books this spring. Ten Windows, a book of essays, and The Beauty, a collection of poems, will be published in March 2015.