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April 13, 2003 Poets House From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Edward Hirsch was born in Chicago on January 20, 1950, and educated both at Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a PhD in folklore.

His first collection of poems, For the Sleepwalkers (Alfred A. Knopf), was published in 1981 and went on to receive the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Since then, he has published several books of poems, most recently Gabriel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014); The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011); Special Orders (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008); Lay Back the Darkness (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003); On Love (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998); Earthly Measures (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994); and The Night Parade (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989).

He is also the author of A Poet's Glossary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014); The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (Harcourt, 2002); Responsive Reading (University of Michigan Press, 1999); and the national bestseller How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (Harcourt, 1999), which the poet Garrett Hongo called "the product of a lifetime of passionate reflection" and "a wonderful book for laureate and layman both." Hirsch is also the author of Poet's Choice (Harcourt, 2007), which collects two years' worth of his weekly essay-letters running in The Washington Post's Book World.

About Hirsch's poetry, the poet Dana Goodyear wrote for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "It takes a brave poet to follow Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton into the abyss . . . Hirsch's poems [are] compassionate, reverential, sometimes relievingly ruthless."

Hirsch’s honors include an Academy of Arts and Letters Award, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

He has been a professor of English at Wayne State University and the University of Houston. Hirsch is currently the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

In 2008, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in New York City.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Gabriel (Alfred A. Knopf, 2014)
The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)
Special Orders (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)
Lay Back the Darkness (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)
On Love (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)
Earthly Measures (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994)
The Night Parade (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989)
Wild Gratitude (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)
For the Sleepwalkers (Alfred A. Knopf, 1981)

Prose

A Poet's Glossary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
Poet's Choice (Harcourt, 2007)
The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (Harcourt, 2002)
Responsive Reading (University of Michigan Press, 1999)
How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (Harcourt, 1999)

Lay Back the Darkness

Edward Hirsch, 1950
My father in the night shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream
and ease his restless passage.

Lay back the darkness for a salesman
who could charm everything but the shadows,

an immigrant who stands on the threshold
of a vast night

without his walker or his cane
and cannot remember what he meant to say,

though his right arm is raised, as if in prophecy,
while his left shakes uselessly in warning.

My father in the night shuffling from room to room
is no longer a father or a husband or a son,

but a boy standing on the edge of a forest
listening to the distant cry of wolves,

to wild dogs,
to primitive wingbeats shuddering in the treetops. 

From Lay Back the Darkness by Edward Hirsch Copyright © 2003 by Edward Hirsch. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

From Lay Back the Darkness by Edward Hirsch Copyright © 2003 by Edward Hirsch. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Edward Hirsch

Edward Hirsch

Born in Chicago on January 20, 1950, Edward Hirsch is a poet and literary advocate. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (Knopf, 1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award.

by this poet

poem
Let's not forget the General
Shuffling out in his gray slippers
To feed the pigeons in Logan Square.

He wore a battered White Sox cap
And a heavy woolen scarf tossed
Over his shoulder, even in summer.

I remember how he muttered to himself
And coughed into his newspaper
And complained about his gout

To the
poem
You're sitting at a small bay window
in an empty café by the sea.
It's nightfall, and the owner is locking up,
though you're still hunched over the radiator,
which is slowly losing warmth.

Now you're walking down to the shore
to watch the last blues fading on the waves.
You've lived in small houses, tight
poem
Tonight when I knelt down next to our cat, Zooey, 
And put my fingers into her clean cat's mouth, 
And rubbed her swollen belly that will never know kittens, 
And watched her wriggle onto her side, pawing the air, 
And listened to her solemn little squeals of delight, 
I was thinking about the poet, Christopher