Hirshfield’s fifth collection, and, as with her previous work the poems are simple, almost ascetic in structure and vocabulary—yet quite complex in meaning. (To borrow a phrase popular on Madison Avenue, they comprise a “high-attention product.”) Yet, unlike some of her academic contemporaries, Hirshfield does not engage in intentional obfuscation. Her purpose is rather to elucidate, and she does so with almost blinding clarity and sincerity. While she mentions Tu Fu and Li Po, she does not cotton to the faux Zen koans currently in vogue whose great truths sound like dialogue paraphrased from Kung Fu reruns. She has found her own truth and fashioned her own vessel for conveying it. Her specialty is the everyday object—a button, a pair of scissors, a spoon—and “their circle of simple, passionate thusness, their hidden rituals of luck and solitude.” While the philosopher may contemplate nature through detachment, Hirshfield gains her knowledge through familiarity, even intimacy, with it. The resultant verse is therefore sensual rather than austere. And because she is “not entirely embarrassed to be human,” she offers poems based on a soulful resignation to life’s dilemmas as opposed to a merely intellectual renunciation of them.
Not to make her work too forbidding, it must be stressed that these poems are highly accessible. Their sense, however, does not come to one in an epiphanous flash. Rather, it seeps into one's consciousness, like the aftertaste of some delectable morsel.