Monday, February 1, 2021

Griffiths & Hirshfield: The Introverts with Big Audience


On January 31, 2021, the Dresser heard poets Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Jane Hirschfield who gave Zoom readings sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Center. Jennifer Franklin, the moderator, reported an audience of 300.


Griffiths read from Seeing the Body (W. W. Norton, 2020), a collection that, among other topics, charts and celebrates the poet’s late mother with passionate and deeply felt imagery. One can hear this immediately in the opening poem, the title poem, “See the Body”—“I remember/her voice like a horn I never want/to pull out of my heart,” “I gather every mouth/that ever sang my mother’s blues,” “she talked back hard at god.” While this language is of this world, Griffiths moves this poem to a higher plane, the eternal: “How does the elegy believe me?/Together, we crossed the sky./There was a gate & we walked through/the world like that.”


Rachel Eliza Griffiths is an artist of many outlets. Seeing the Body displays both her lyrical poems and her black-and-white photographs. She is author of five poetry collections.


Hirschfield read from Ledger (Knopf, 2020), a socially, ecologically, and politically tuned in collection of poem reflecting on justice, peace, and, literally, the fate of the world. The poet has a disarming way of starting with the physical world and moving to another level of human existence. Her opening poem of Ledger entitled “The Bowl,” begins “If meat is put into the bowl, meat is eaten.” On the immediate level, the statement seems purely obvious and logical, particularly if the one being fed is at the mercy of a host. But wait, what if this is a begging bowl and the beggar is vegetarian? Then suddenly the audience has moved into some other realm. Is it the politics of healthy eating, animal rights, social justice where one person is subjugated by another? This is a bowl like a day that contains “Wars, loves, trucks, betrayals, kindness” and this bowl cannot be thrown way or broken. Moreover “It is calm, uneclipsable, rindless,/and, big though it seems, fits exactly in two hands.” If Hirschfield only presented this poem, the audience would be fed for a life time, except everything she read was like this.

Jane Hirschfield, a Princeton University graduate of the first class including women,  received lay ordination in Soto Zen (San Francisco Zen Center). She is author of nine collections of poetry.


The Dresser recommends hearing the reading and the Q&A that answers questions on their writing processes.