Tuesday, April 2, 2013

BPR LIT TRIP 2 with Edward Hirsch

National Poetry Month seems to be a particularly good time for the Steiny Road Poet’s journey through the Spring 2013 (number 40), the Birmingham Poetry Review (BPR). With a little fear about failure, the Steiny Poet would like to pledge that every day in this month, she will set aside time for poetry in order to discuss a poem selected from this handsome volume. Poetry reviews, which are a cross between anthology and newspaper, do not get much attention in the under appreciated art form of poetry. One other point of current day relevancy is that the BPR is a print journal and so there is less potential for audience than an online journal. The Steiny Poet won’t argue the merits of the online journal in this post but will merely note that even the most well-known poetry print journals have to consider going online for their longevity.

In picking the second poem for discussion, the Steiny Poet noticed that the organization of the BPR is strictly alphabetic except for the work of the featured poet (in this case Claudia Emerson) and an associated interview and review of the featured poet’s latest book of poetry. Alphabetizing serves its purpose making it easy to find poets that interest a reader and cutting down the time it takes the journal editors to assemble work by many authors. Also it equalizes the pecking order such that well-known authors, such as Edward Hirsch whom the Steiny Poet features in today’s post, are mixed with the lesser known.

“Cemetery Gates” by Edward Hirsch is a memory poem about the narrator’s first dead friend. Unlike Jane Satterfield’s “Resurrection Spell,” which the Steiny Poet discussed in BPR Lit Trip 1, “Cemetery Gates” is more celebratory with a critical edge than elegiac. In Hirsch’s poem, the dead friend in his immature youth (the Steiny Poet says here the poet is being judgmental or critical of his friend) is pictured drinking beer under the summer stars (and possibly in the graveyard where he used to run at night) versus Satterfield’s poem where the narrator finds ironic resurrection in a glass of ale as she tries to assuage the loss of the dear friend. While Satterfield, through the ritual keening of living friends, imagines the possibility that their dead friend might come breezing back into their studio kitchen (Satterfield’s poem must also be set back in the time of youth when living space was small for college students who could afford only a place with a tiny kitchen), Hirsch merely wonders “if the ghost of [his] track star [friend]…still races through the graveyard at night.”

Hirsch’s poem, as is his style (one my favorite Hirsch poems is “Wild Gratitude”), comes across in simple unadorned language. What is easy to miss because the poem does not rhyme is the end word repetition of the words star, friend, night throughout the four stanzas of tercets. Of particular note is the way the repetition is done. Stanzas one and four read star, friend, night while the interior stanzas read in reverse order night, friend, stars.

While Hirsch gives play to the word star to which he assigns track star (for describing his friend who loved to run) and stars—those heavenly bodies that shine at night, there is no attempt at metaphor. Even the title “Cemetery Gates” gets no larger meaning.

Because Hirsch is the author of How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry—this is a book that details why poetry matters, the Steiny Poet believes that anything Hirsch writes is worth the reader’s time.  However, no need to believe the Steiny Poet, have a look at quotations from How to Read a Poem which can be seen at a blog called Dionysian Generator, where the blogger quotes passages from the book and applies it to selected poems. Selection 1 and selection 2.  And remember, Dear Reader, you can read “Cemetery Gates” by Edward Hirsch in Spring 2013 issue of the Birmingham Poetry Review.

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