Jane Hirshfield

in Conversation with Alison Gopnik

Recorded May 31st, 2020

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Jane Hirshfield in conversation with Alison Gopnik
Sunday, May 31, 2020

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Jane Hirshfield‘s recently released collection, Ledger: Poems has been hailed as the most important and masterly work of her career.

Jane, one of our most celebrated contemporary poets. is the author of nine collections of poetry, including the newly released Ledger; The Beauty, long-listed for the National Book Award and a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of 2015; Come, Thief; After, named a Best Book of 2006 by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and the Financial Times, and a finalist for England’s prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize; Given Sugar, Given Salt finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the Bay Area Book Reviewers Award; The Lives of the Heart; The October Palace; Of Gravity & Angels, winner of the Poetry Center Book Award; and Alaya.

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, where she has taught since 1988. She received her BA from McGill University and her PhD from Oxford University. She is a world leader in cognitive science, particularly the study of children’s learning and development.

Alison is the author of over 100 articles and several books including Words, Thoughts and Theories (coauthored with Andrew Meltzoff), The Scientist in the Crib (coauthored with Andrew Meltzoff and Patricia Kuhl),  and The Philosophical Baby; What children’s minds tell us about love, truth and the meaning of life. The Scientist in the Crib” was a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller, was translated into 20 languages and was enthusiastically reviewed in Science, The New Yorker, the Washington Post and The New York Review of Books (among others). She has also written for Science, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, The New York Times, New Scientist, and Slate.

A poem, a poet’s life, and the larger world are one continuous fabric.”

– Jane Hirshfield, The Paris Review, March 11, 2020

Jane Hirshfield, in poems described by The Washington Post as belonging “among the modern masters” and by The New York Times as “passionate and radiant,” addresses the urgent immediacies of our time. Ranging from the political, ecological, and scientific to the metaphysical, personal, and passionate, Jane praises the radiance of particularity and the consequence of the daily. Her poems and essays traverse the crises of the biosphere and social justice, abiding in the intersections of facts and imagination, desire and loss, impermanence and beauty— all the dimensions of our existence within what one poem calls “the pure democracy of being.”

Her nine poetry books include The Beauty, long-listed for the 2015 National Book Award; Given Sugar, Given Salt, a finalist for the 2001 National Book Critics Circle Award; and After, short-listed for England’s T.S. Eliot Award and named a “best book of 2006” by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, and England’s Financial Times. Her two collections of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry (1997) and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World (2015), have become classics in their field, as have her four books collecting and co-translating the work of world poets from the past: The Ink Dark Moon: Love Poems by Komachi & Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Japanese Court; Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women; Mirabai: Ecstatic Poems; and The Heart of Haiku, on Matsuo Basho, named an Amazon Best Book of 2011. Her ninth poetry collection is Ledger (Knopf, March 10, 2020).

Jane’s other honors include The Poetry Center Book Award; fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets; Columbia University’s Translation Center Award; The California Book Award, Northern California Book Reviewers Award, and the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry. Her work appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Times Literary Supplement, The New York Review of Books, Poetry, and ten editions of The Best American Poetry. In fall 2004, Jane was awarded the 70th Academy Fellowship for distinguished poetic achievement by The Academy of American Poets, an honor formerly held by such poets as Robert Frost, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, and Elizabeth Bishop. In 2012, she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In March 2019 she was voted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Jane has taught at Stanford University, UC Berkeley, Duke University, Bennington College, and elsewhere. Her work has been translated into over a dozen languages and set by numerous composers, including John Adams and Philip Glass; her TED-ED animated introduction to metaphor has received over 875,000 views. An intimate and profound master of her art, her frequent appearances at universities, writers’ conferences and festivals in this country and abroad are highly acclaimed.

Alison Gopnik is a professor of psychology and affiliate professor of philosophy at the University of California at Berkeley, where she has taught since 1988. She received her BA from McGill University and her PhD from Oxford University. She is a world leader in cognitive science, particularly the study of children’s learning and development.

Alison is the author of over 100 journal articles and several books including the bestselling and critically acclaimed popular books The Scientist in the Crib, as well as The Philosophical Baby: What children’s minds tell us about love, truth and the meaning of life, and The Gardener and the Carpenter: What the new science of child development tells us about the relationship between parents and children. She is a fellow of the Cognitive Science Society and the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Visit the Book Passage website to have any of Jane’s books or any of Alison’s books delivered right to your door.

You’re sure to enjoy these Book Passage favorites:

Ledger: Poems

The Ledger

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World

Ten windows

The Gardener and the Carpenter

The Gardner and the Carpenter

Get ready to join Jane in conversation, Sunday May 31st.

In the meantime, we invite you to take a moment now to help shape this upcoming conversation.

Check out the list of questions submitted by other registered attendees, and then vote to support any that match your interests.
Feel free to add your own question. Then spread the word to make sure others have the chance to help move your question to the top of the shared list.

  • 8

    votes

    Who are some of your favorite authors, whether fiction or non-fiction, and have they influenced your writing?

  • 6

    votes

    What’s the difference between reading and writing poetry?

  • 5

    votes

    Was there a crossroad in your path…a fork in the road…and if you had chosen the other path what would we have known you as?

  • 4

    votes

    Do find there are certain emotions you are more willing to explore in your writing? Do you find yourself shying away from emotions like rage or despair? What role does hope play in your work?

  • 4

    votes

    What was a major transitional point in your life and what books supported that transition?

  • 4

    votes

    How can we use poetry to alleviate some of the stresses in our world today? Or what is the role of poetry in our world today?

  • 3

    votes

    In Ledger you make various uses of the noun “life.” In “Now a darkness is coming”: “I hold my life with two hands.” What kind of entity is this–a story? a continuity of memories? a third-person overview? or…? In “Kitchen”: “Yet a life is not prepared for its ending.” Here, it seems, life is a conscious being, existing from moment to moment. In both cases, the poet seems to stand outside of her “life.” I won’t cite more examples from your many books. If you think this is not a trivial question, please tell me more. From your admiring friend, Dan.

  • 3

    votes

    How has studying craft and studying Buddhism influenced your poetic voice? What has been the great lessons from each source? Thank you.

  • 3

    votes

    Do you listen to music when you write…does it loosen your mind?

  • 3

    votes

    I think poetry is such a potent art form…so spare and powerful…why did you choose the medium?

  • 3

    votes

    The natural world has been deeply affected by the coronavirus…what have you observed and are you inspired to weave into your writing?

  • 1

    votes

    Do you feel that writing poetry — and submitting it — is a kind of activism? And therefore, are you protective of your solitude?

  • 0

    votes

    Could you talk about your recent poem about saving the ant…It was beautiful.