The Beauty, an incandescent new collection from one of American poetry’s most distinctive and essential voices, opens with a series of dappled, ranging “My” poems—“My Skeleton,” “My Corkboard,” “My Species,” “My Weather”—using materials sometimes familiar, sometimes unexpected, to explore the magnitude, singularity, and permeability of our shared existence. With a pen faithful to the actual yet dipped at times in the ink of the surreal, Hirshfield considers the inner and outer worlds we live in yet are not confined by; reflecting on advice given her long ago—to avoid the word “or”—she concludes, “Now I too am sixty. / There was no other life.” Hirshfield’s lines cut, as always, directly to the heart of human experience. Her robust affirmation of choice even amid inevitability, her tender consciousness of the unjudging beauty of what exists, her abiding contemplation of our moral, societal, and biological intertwinings, sustain poems that tune and retune the keys of a life. For this poet, “Zero Plus Anything Is a World.” Hirshfield’s riddling recipes for that world (“add salt to hunger”; “add time to trees”) offer a profoundly altered understanding of our lives’ losses and additions, and of the small and larger beauties we so often miss.
Hirshfield (Come, Thief) opens her beautiful eighth book of poems describing the copper bowls of a scale in perfect balance: on one end of the scales a woman in a wheelchair sings a traditional Portuguese fado, on the other end everyone else present hangs in attention. This moment, one that expresses the internal vastness of the individual, bleeds into the rest of the collection as Hirshfield seeks the idea of balance. In a collection where "an hour can be dropped like a glass," the pieces are seen by the reader as a new whole. "The ideas of poets turn into only themselves," she notes, and those ideas are both the most important and the least. She uses the quotidian to peer into the life cycle. When she writes, "Now I too am sixty./ There was no other life," it is as if the whole world had reached that milestone before her and she is somehow the last to see it through. The book pleads with itself to remember the past; the moments where days drifted by and doors could open or close. It pleads not to be forgotten. If Hirshfield's previous work could be accused of lacking duende, this one surely cannot; it is a book of late-midlife koans that finally only want one thing, for "fate to be human."