Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Couplets Post: "Contemporary American Women Poets"

Here is the second guest post for the "Couplets" project, by Anne Higgins.

Contemporary American Women Poets:  Kate Daniels and Jane Hirschfield


Back in 1998, I heard Kathleen Norris read one of Kate Daniels’ poems at a reading she was giving in Washington DC.  I loved the poem so much that I hunted Kate Daniels down on Google, to read more of her work.  In the summer of 2001, I signed up for the Indiana University Writers’ Conference, specifically because Kate Daniels was one of the poets ; I signed up for her poetry workshop.  I learned much from that workshop and from our conference.  In the process, we became friends and correspondents.

Kate teaches at Vanderbilt University; she is married and the mother of three.   The poem that initially grabbed me was one from her fourth book,  Four Testimonies, from the section called “Portrait of the Artist as Mother:”




Opening the diaper, each morning

becomes the third day, when God

 created the earth, late

 in the afternoon, mountains

 and continents firmly in place,

 the waterways swinging between,

He turned His attention

 to the lowlands, malodorous

 and steamy, the swampy

muck of undersides mutating

 already into something new,

 future home of the uncivilized

 creatures who will sleep in their own

 dung, and rise, unfazed, a dazzling

smile ripping through the bars

of the crib, sunlight breaking

like tears on their slithering

 bodies and their unhaired heads.


( Kate Daniels,  Four Testimonies)



Since then, I have learned that Kate’s poems are generally longer than this one; she favors narrative and dramatic poetry.  Another one of my favorites is called  “In the Marvelous Dimension,” also from Four Testimonies -  it’s about the San Francisco earthquake of 1984,  when the Bay Bridge collapsed in on itself; it’s told in the voices of four people in the bridge collapse.  It’s harrowing.  Her ability to write about suffering with intensity and originality, “telling, not showing,” is one of the things I love about her poetry.

She now has five books published: The White Wave (1984),  The Niobe Poems (1988), Four Testimonies (1998),  A Walk in Victoria's Secret (2010).


I met Jane Hirschfield just once, back in the Spring of 2001  at Baylor University’s Art and Soul Festival. However, I was reading her poetry before that, and into the present. Her lyric poetry seems to me to be influenced by her training and experience with Zen meditation; there’s a magic in the condensed images that draws me in.  Here is one of my favorites of hers:




Ripeness is

what falls away with ease.

Not only the heavy apple,

the pear,

but also the dried brown strands

of autumn iris from their core.


To let your body

love this world

that gave itself to your care

in all of its ripeness,

with ease,

and will take itself from you

in equal ripeness and ease,

is also harvest.


And however sharply

you are tested –

this sorrow, that great love –

it too will leave on that clean knife.


Jane Hirschfield, in The October Palace



As much as I admire her poetry, it is Jane Hirschfield’s book of essays, Nine Gates – Entering the Mind of Poetry, to which I return again and again.  Each essay is beautifully written, and the uniqueness of her perspective stays with me.  My favorite essay is “Facing the Lion: The Way of Shadow and Light in Some twentieth-Century Poems.”  In it, she examines “the ways the poetry of heaven and the poetry of hell speak to one another and require one another…”  Particularly, her study of Allen Ginsberg’s “The Lion for Real” in this essay spoke to me about my own long refusal to “face the lion” of my own anger, both in poetry and in life. I can’t recommend this essay collection highly enough!


Jane Hirschfield has six books of poetry published: Alaya ( 1982), Of Gravity and Angels ( 1988), The October Palace ( 1994), The Lives of the Heart ( 1997), Given Sugar, Given Salt ( 2001), and Come, Thief ( 2011).  Her book of essays is Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry ( 1997)


Tags: gender studies, holiday, poetry, reading, writing

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