Jane Hirshfield

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Jane Hirshfield
Hirshfield in 2011
Hirshfield in 2011
Born (1953-02-24) February 24, 1953 (age 71)
New York City, U.S.
Alma materPrinceton University

Jane Hirshfield (born February 24, 1953[1]) is an American poet, essayist, and translator, known as 'one of American poetry's central spokespersons for the biosphere' and recognized as 'among the modern masters,' 'writing some of the most important poetry in the world today.' A 2019 elected member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, her books include numerous award-winning collections of her own poems, collections of essays, and edited and co-translated volumes of world writers from the deep past. Widely published in global newspapers and literary journals, her work has been translated into over fifteen languages.[2]

Life, education, and work[edit]

Jane Hirshfield was born on East 20th Street in New York City. She received her bachelor's degree in 1973 from Princeton University, in the school's first graduating class to include women as freshmen, and received lay ordination in Soto Zen at the San Francisco Zen Center in 1979.[3]

Hirshfield's nine books of poetry have received numerous awards, including the California Book Award, the Poetry Center Book Award, and the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Award in American Poetry[4] 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. Her eighth collection, The Beauty, was long-listed for the National Book Award[5] and named a 'best book of 2015' by The San Francisco Chronicle.[6] She has written two books of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World. 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."[7] She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985, the Academy of American Poets' 2004 Fellowship[8] for Distinguished Achievement, and a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 2005.

Though 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 was the Hellman Visiting Artist in 2013 in the Neuroscience Department at University of California, San Francisco, and Stanford University's 2016 Mohr Visiting Professor in Poetry. In 2022, she was the third Seamus Heaney International Visiting Poetry Fellow at Queen's University Belfast.[9] 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.[10] 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 has received numerous residency fellowships, including from Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony,[11] The Rauschenberg Foundation,[12] the Rockefeller Foundation's Bellagio Center, Civitella Ranieri,[13] and the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.[14][15] 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.

Hirshfield served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (2012–2017).[10]

In 2019, Hirshfield was elected to the American Academy of Arts & Sciences.[16]


David Baker described Hirshfield as "one of our finest, most memorable contemporary poets"[17] and U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan called Hirshfield "a true person of letters".[10][18] 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.[10]

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."[19]

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 and Ten Windows. 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" stands as a model behind the small studies Hirshfield has labelled "pebbles", included in After and Come, Thief.[20]

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." Donna Seaman, reviewing Hirshfield's ninth collection, Ledger, described 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."[21] Hirshfield has become an increasingly visible spokesperson for peace, justice, and environmental issues. 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."[22] Hirshfield's voice as a spokesperson for peace, justice, and environmental issues has become increasing visible, with her work concluding the Library of America's "War No More: Three Hundred Years of American Antiwar and Peace Writing"[23] and appearing in many other collections of poems of social awareness.[24][25]

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.[26]

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."[27] 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".[28]

Other reviewers note the investigative nature of Hirshfield's poems, in which life is approached as a puzzle which is not quite solvable. 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."[29]

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."[30] 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."[31]

Hirshfield's poems and life increasingly 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."[32] In 2010, she was the Blue River Fellow in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest's Long Term Ecological Reflection project, whose goal is to track scientific research and artistic responses to the same sites for 200 years.[33]

In 2017, Hirshfield organized a Poets For Science component for the main D.C. March for Science held on Earth Day, April 22, on the Washington Mall. As a main rally speaker, she read "On the Fifth Day", a poem protesting the January 24, 2017, removal of scientific information from federal agency websites. The poem appeared on the front page of the Washington Post's Opinion Section a week before the March.[34] Working with the Wick Poetry Center based at Kent State University in Ohio, Hirshfield arranged also for a Poets For Science tent to be part of the teach-in preceding the March, in which scientists and their supporters were invited both to read and to write their own scientifically-grounded poems.[25][35][36] Poets For Science activities from the March and into the future are hosted on the Wick Poetry Center's website.[37] Video of Hirshfield's reading at the March for Science.[38]

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, the New York Times, many literary journals, and multiple volumes of The Best American Poetry and Pushcart Prize anthologies.[39] 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.[40] Extended conversations with fellow poets Ilya Kaminsky (The Paris Review),[41] Kaveh Akbar (The American Poetry Review),[42] and Mark Doty (Guernica)[43] appeared in conjunction with the publication of Ledger in 2020.



  • Hirshfield, Jane (1982). Alaya. Quarterly Review of Literature.
  • — (1988). Of gravity & angels. Wesleyan University Press.[a]
  • 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. February 5, 2013. ISBN 978-0-375-71207-4.
  • minus/my-ness (Missing Links Press), 2014. ISBN 978-0-9899228-3-8.
  • The Beauty: Poems. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. March 17, 2015. ISBN 978-0-385-35108-9.
  • Ledger: Poems. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. March 10, 2020. ISBN 978-0-525-65780-4.
  • The Asking: New and Selected Poems. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. September 12, 2023. ISBN 9780593535950.
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). 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.
Husband 2015 Hirshfield, Jane (April 13, 2015). "Husband". The New Yorker. 91 (8): 48. Retrieved June 21, 2015.
Engraving: World-Tree with an Empty Beehive on One Branch 2016 Hirshfield, Jane (June 12, 2016). "Engraving: World tree with an empty beehive on one branch". The New York Times T Magazine. Retrieved June 18, 2016.
Tin 2021 Hirshfield, Jane (September 13, 2021). "Tin". The New Yorker. 97 (28): 65.



  1. ^ Winner of the California Book Award in Poetry.
  2. ^ "Amazon.com: The Heart of Haiku (Kindle Single) eBook: Jane Hirshfield: Kindle Store". Amazon.com. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  3. ^ Peschel, Joseph (May 25, 2015). "Caution: World-Changing Poetry at Work". The Daily Beast. Retrieved January 29, 2018 – via TheDailyBeast.com.

Honors and awards[edit]

  • 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
  • Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry
  • 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
  • Long-list National Book Award
  • Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (2012–2017)[44]
  • elected, American Academy of Arts & Sciences (2019)[16]


  1. ^ Bryson, J. Scott; Thompson, Roger, eds. (2008). Twentieth-century American nature poets. Detroit, MI: Gale Cengage Learning. pp. 178–184. ISBN 978-0-7876-8160-9. LCCN 2008022299. OCLC 229446118. OL 11095126M.
  2. ^ "Jane Hirshfield". Seamus Heaney Centre, Queen's University Belfast. Retrieved November 12, 2022.
  3. ^ Busch, Colleen Morton (2011). Fire Monks: Zen Mind Meets Wildfire at the Gates of Tassajara. New York: Penguin Press. p. 15. ISBN 978-1-59420-291-9. LCCN 2011010226. OCLC 682892561. OL 25108970M.
  4. ^ "Jane Hirshfield". Poetry Foundation. Retrieved November 12, 2022.
  5. ^ Kellogg, Carolyn (September 15, 2015). "National Book Award poetry longlist announced". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 26, 2019.
  6. ^ "Best of 2015: 100 recommended books". SFChronicle.com. December 15, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  7. ^ Mark A. Eaton, "Twentieth-Century American Nature Poets". Ed. J. Scott Bryson and Roger Thompson. Dictionary of Literary Biography Vol. 342. Detroit: Gale, 2008.
  8. ^ Academy of American Poets' 2004 Fellowship
  9. ^ "Jane Hirshfield". qub.ac.uk. Retrieved March 2, 2023.
  10. ^ a b c d Jane Hirshfield profile, Academy of American Poets, accessed January 15, 2007
  11. ^ "Index of Fellows on Portable MacDowell – The MacDowell Colony". MacDowellColony.org. Archived from the original on May 26, 2009. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  12. ^ "Past Residents". RauschenbergFoundation.org. October 15, 2014. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  13. ^ "Civitella Rainieri". Civitella.org. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  14. ^ Djerassi Resident Artists Program
  15. ^ "Djerassi Resident Artists Program | Jane Hirshfield". Djerassi Resident Artists Program. Retrieved May 31, 2018.
  16. ^ a b "Newly Elected Members". amacad.org. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  17. ^ David Baker, The American Poet, spring 2005.
  18. ^ Kay Ryan, from the Academy of American Poets' New Chancellor 2012 Press Release, reprinted in The American Poet
  19. ^ Czeslaw Milosz, Prze Kroj (Poland), quoted in Reader's Almanac, Library of America October 12, 2012
  20. ^ "A Conversation between Brian Bouldrey & Jane Hirshfield, Pt. 3". The Best American Poetry. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  21. ^ Seaman, Donna (March 15, 2020). Ledger. Booklist. Retrieved May 14, 2020.
  22. ^ Reviewed by Afaa M. Weaver (October 25, 2011). "Come, Thief". Orion Magazine. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  23. ^ "War No More: Three Centuries of American Antiwar & Peace Writing – Library of America". LOA.org. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  24. ^ "Poems of Resistance: A Primer". The New York Times. April 21, 2017. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  25. ^ a b Alter, Alexandra (April 21, 2017). "American Poets, Refusing to Go Gentle, Rage Against the Right". The New York Times. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  26. ^ Peter Harris. "About Jane Hirshfield: A Profile". pshares.org. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  27. ^ Kim Rosen (April 1, 2013). "Poet Jane Hirshfield on the Mystery of Existence". spiritualityhealth.com. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  28. ^ "Monday's Poems: Three by Jane Hirshfield". The Chronicle of Higher Education. September 24, 2011. Archived from the original on November 5, 2011. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  29. ^ Kitchen, Judith. "Jane Hirshfield's Come, Thief". The Georgia Review Summer 2012. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
  30. ^ Stephen Yenser, The Yale Review (April 1995) pp 147-152
  31. ^ Catherine (July 12, 2011). "Meet the 2011 Faculty: Jane Hirshfield". NapaWritersConference.org. Archived from the original on January 13, 2013. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  32. ^ "Hellman Visiting Artist Program, UCSF Memory and Ageing centre". Memory and Aging Center. Archived from the original on April 5, 2012. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  33. ^ "About Andrews Forest Art & Humanities – Andrews Forest Log". AndrewsForestLog.org. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  34. ^ Jane Hirshfield (April 14, 2017). "On the Fifth Day". The Washington Post.
  35. ^ Dana Isokawa (April 19, 2017). "The Two Feet of One Walking: Poets March for Science". Poets & Writers Magazine. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  36. ^ North, Anna (April 23, 2017). "Opinion – Making Art at the March for Science". The New York Times. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  37. ^ "Science Stanzas: The March for Science › Poets for Science". Science Stanzas: The March for Science. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  38. ^ Earth Day Network (April 24, 2017). "March for Science Earth Day 2017 Speaker – Jane Hirshfield". Archived from the original on December 14, 2021. Retrieved January 29, 2018 – via YouTube.
  39. ^ "Hirshfield profile". HarperCollins. Retrieved March 9, 2020.
  40. ^ "Interview with poet Jane Hirshfield". SFGate.com. March 12, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  41. ^ Kaminsky, Ilya (March 11, 2020). "A Poem Is Not a Frontal Assault: An Interview with Jane Hirshfield". The Paris Review. Retrieved May 14, 2020.
  42. ^ Akbar, Kaveh (March 2020). "On Writing Poems Facing Into the Broken World". The American Poetry Review Volume 49, No. 02. Retrieved May 14, 2020.
  43. ^ Doty, Mark (April 30, 2020). "The Worlds We Find Ourselves In: Mark Doty and Jane Hirshfield in Conversation". Guernica. Retrieved May 14, 2020.
  44. ^ "Jane Hirshfield". poets.org. Retrieved May 8, 2019.

External links[edit]