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A Conversation between Brian Bouldrey & Jane Hirshfield, Pt. 3
photo (c) Robert Hatch Photography (Ed. note: This is the final installment of Brian Bouldrey's three-part interview with Jane Hirshfield occasioned by her just-released collection Come,Thief. Kevin Young selected Hirshfield's poem "The Cloudy Vase" for the Best American Poetry 2011. Go here for a schedule of Jane's upcoming readings. Go here for Part 1 of this interview and here for part 2.) Brian: I know you’ve been developing over the past couple of volumes something you call “pebbles," very short poems that seem influenced by both eastern and western traditions. Can you describe the growth or emergence of the pebbles? Jane: The first book I ever purchased, at age eight, was a Peter Pauper Press book of Japanese haiku. I co-translated (with the indispensable help of Mariko Aratani) both Japanese tanka poems (the 31-syllable form that preceded haiku), for The Ink Dark Moon (Vintage Classics, 1990), and more recently haiku, for The Heart of Haiku, an extended essay on Basho and haiku that was brought out earlier this summer as a Kindle Single. But for my own writing, as I said, I felt I needed to find my own form, rather than practice the traditional ones, and after a while I began to name them “pebbles” in my mind, taking the title from Zbigniew Herbert’s famous “Pebble.” They are not haiku, but they are short, slightly intransigent poems that require some response in the mind of the reader before they are finished—as Herbert describes his pebble as inescapably warmed by the hand that holds it. I became much more conscious of these very short poems’ nature and means after writing an essay about them, “Skipping Stones,” for Stephen Berg’s anthology, My Business is Circumference: Poets on Influence and Mastery (Paul Dry Books, 2001). In the book that followed, After (HarperCollins, 2006), I grouped a series under a kind of basket title “Seventeen Pebbles.” Each is meant to be read as an individual, free-standing poem, but putting them in a series seemed more polite to the trees, rather than have 17 pages of a book with only a few lines on each. There’s a similar series, “Fifteen Pebbles,” in Come, Thief. A pebble isn’t just a “short” poem, and while it resembles other brief poems, it’s not quite the same thing as an aphorism, a haiku, an epigram. They have their own flavor, for me. Here are two— Mountain and Mouse Both move. One only more slowly. Opening the Hand Between Here and Here On the dark road, only the weight of the rope. Yet the horse is there. After I’d published After, someone told me that Herman Melville had written short poems he also referred to as “pebbles.” They were hard to find, and didn’t resemble mine much, but I was pleased to discover I shared something with the author of Moby Dick. Brian: Poetry, for so much of human history, has covered all the modes—love letter, persuasive thinking, discourse, argument, storytelling—and in many ways, much of that variety has...
Posted Sep 23, 2011 at
The Best American Poetry
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