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Lay Back the Darkness: Poems

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About the Author

Edward Hirsch has published five previous books of poems: For the Sleepwalkers (1981), Wild Gratitude (1986), which won the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Night Parade (1989), Earthly Measures (1994), and On Love (1998). He has also written three prose books, including How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (1999), a national best-seller, and The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (2002). A frequent contributor to leading magazines and periodicals, including The New Yorker, DoubleTake, and American Poetry Review, he also writes the Poet's Choice column for the Washington Post Book World. He has received the Prix de Rome, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for Literature, and a MacArthur Fellowship. A professor in the Creative Writing Program at the University of Houston for seventeen years, he is now President of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. From the Hardcover edition.


In his sixth collection, the much-lauded Hirsch (On Love) employs an academic's erudition and uncomplicated, measured language to skirt (just barely) the pitfalls of sentimentality and melodrama-no small task for a poet of his late-Romantic sensibilities. Sandwiched between two series of classically themed lyrics-the first on Orpheus, the second on Hades-are first-person meditations on life, death, faith, and family, as well as a long poem dedicated to the memory of the 15,000 children who were imprisoned in the Nazi camp at Terezin (Theresienstadt). While some pieces are diminished by the poet's insistence on self-consciously interposing himself between the poem and the reader ("I am so small walking on the beach"; "I am walking under the palm trees in Miami") and by a surplus of weak or cliched modifiers ("boiling surf," "fresh new recruits," "the simple truth"), the sequence "Two Suitcases of Children's Drawings from Terezin, 1942-1944" is riveting in its terse, sharply evocative catalog of images, both disturbing ("A paper cut-out with brown paint/ of a man hanging") and moving ("She painted herself dark blue/ when she felt like a cello")-a poem of singular power in an otherwise low-key collection.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., NY Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

The author of five previous collections (including the 1986 NBCC Award-winning Wild Gratitude) and three books of prose in the last five years (How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry among them), Hirsch was awarded a MacArthur "genius" grant, and was recently named president of the Guggenheim Foundation. (He was quoted as being "wildly energized" by the prospect.) This sixth collection should raise his reputation to Pinsky-like proportions. But although the two poets tackle many of the same themes (the Bible; classical literature; the Holocaust and its aftermath), Hirsch's poetic personae are much more straightforward. "The Desire Manuscripts," in seven parts, gives voice to books of The Inferno (in terza rima) and The Odyssey: "I have been many things in this life-/ husband, a warrior, a seer-but I cannot forget/ what the goddess can do to me, if she desires." The serial "Two Suitcases of Children's Drawings from Terezin, 1942-1944" works from a real set of found drawings from the Terezin concentration camp: "when the locks were unfastened/ the drawings spilled over/ like a waterfall/ and everyone was drenched." A third, longer work is the 10-part "Under a Wild Green Fig Tree: The Hades Sonnets, " which offers three poems in the voice of Eurydice, and an Orphic "Voyage": "I was sentenced to the punishment/ field along with other tormented spirits/ where I vowed to remember the ghostly/ and baleful blue undersongs of Hades/ and return with them to the waking world." In these and the shorter poems that fill out the collection, Hirsch puts his vaunted formal skills to careful use, creating characters readers will recognize immediately. (Mar. 20) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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