Edward Hirsch published his first book of poetry in 1981. On April 14, Hirsch shared the limelight with poets who were born a full decade after that book was released.
Hirsch, director of the Guggenheim Foundation, had some advice for poets from the Cristo Rey and LaGuardia high schools in Manhattan and the GirlsWriteNow mentoring program.
“We get things from poetry that we can’t get from other places. There’s a special kind of thinking that takes place in poetry that isn’t in other places,” he said. “I hope you’ll protect it, preserve it, explore it, use it and carry it forward.
“We live in an unprecedented situation of celebrity culture, 24-hour news media, 840 cable channels and an amazing amount of technology. But no one is really paying attention,” he said. “Poets pay attention.”
Hirsch, whose appearance at the 12th-Floor Lounge at Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus marked final the Poets Out Loud event of the academic year, read selections from The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems 1975-2010 (Knopf Doubleday, 2010).
His first reading followed poems by Sarah Schwartz, a Fordham graduate student who is a teacher at LaGuardia, and five high school students. His second set began after poems by three more high school students.
As he delivered poems such as “Self Portrait,” “A New Theology” and “Boy with a Headset,” Hirsch salted in tidbits about the works.
“Fast Break,” which he said was meant to imitate a fast break in basketball, is a memorial poem for his friend Dennis Turner, who was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1984.
“I had the weirdest experience last week. I got a call in my office from a high school class in Idaho. They had read ‘Fast Break’ and didn’t know who Dennis Turner was, so they decided to ask me,” he said. “I thought that was so cool. So if you have any questions about my poems, feel free to call and I’d be happy to clear them up for you.”
Heather Dubrow, Ph.D., the John D. Boyd, S.J., Chair in Poetic Imagination and director of Poets Out Loud, praised Hirsch’s commitment to fostering the careers of less well-established poets.
“‘The Beginning of Poetry,’ which is the opening poem in Edward Hirsch’s Living Fire, is about loneliness and isolation, which are aptly represented by a train whistle,” Dubrow said. “This is a poet who writes repeatedly about the lonely and longing—lonely and longing bodies, houses, awkward situations. Many of the other preoccupations in his poetry represent, and often function as, alternatives and antidotes to loneliness and gawkiness.”