On Nov. 12, UR hosted the final reading of the Plutzik Series in the Welles-Brown Room of Rush Rhees Library.
The lecture was a success, attracting a large group of people. Edward Hirsch, a renowned American poet, was invited to read a few of his poems and answer questions from the audience.
During the event, Hirsch read several poems from his book, ‘Special Orders.” A few poems that he read from this collection included ‘Cotton Candy,” ‘Branch Library,” ‘Self Portrait” and ‘Minimalist Museum.” In ‘Self Portrait,” he wrote, ‘I live between my heart and my head; like a married couple who can’t get along.”
Hirsch mentioned that many of his works in ‘Special Orders” are especially reflective of his feelings because he does not think of his writing as a separation of his personal experiences and the experiences of the people around him. He confessed that, in one of his books, several speakers are present, but that his voice is never nonexistent in his writing.
After Hirsch had finished his reading, he opened the floor for questions. One student asked how Hirsch determined that a poem is complete. ‘A poem is never finished, but just abandoned,” Hirsch said, quoting another poet.
Hirsch explained that writing a poem is like working on an artistic and spiritual problem. He takes a formal approach with some problems, believing that tackling such challenges is similar to tackling a math problem.
Once a poem has been perfected to the point where its author cannot do anything else to improve it, that poem is complete. However, he said that writers should work at the process until they are at ease with their own work.
In response to a question about the definition of poetry, Hirsch explained that poetry is an experience of language and that no one can really know what is considered to be poetry and what is not.
Hirsch explained that his writing is like a diary of his feelings. He feels that a person’s writing should stand apart from the writer, which is why he does not like to analyze his own poems.
According to Hirsch, the best work that one can do as a writer is often not considered the best in the eyes of the critic, but what the writer considers to be the best representation of your feelings at the time. ‘What you read is what you experience,” he said.
Hirsch was adamant about the idea that analyzing his own poems would seem presumptuous because he is already aware of what he is writing about.
‘Make your writing something that can stand on its own, separate of yourself,” Hirsch said. ‘For a poem to have meaning, someone else has to read it. It is like an intimacy between strangers.”
Another student asked Hirsch what drives him to write a poem. ‘Usually when I have a formal idea, that works for me,” Hirsch said. ‘Sometimes you need another piece of language or writing to keep going and, from there, something could kick in.”
Hirsch’s high school teacher mentioned that he would be a great poet, but, at that time, he said that he was in a ‘state of emotional desperation” and never really paid attention to the form of poetry. ‘Forms are very obsessive in poetry,” he said.
He used to imitate metaphysical poetry before he found his own form. ‘Poetry keeps reinventing itself and ends up breaking all the rules of poetry that you began with,” he said.
Hirsch has written a total of six books of poetry and four books of prose, and he is also a recipient of the MacArthur Award.
He is currently the president of the Guggenheim Foundation and, when being introduced at Rochester, he was referred to as a complicated, prominent writer in contemporary America.
He was educated at both Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, which is where he received his Ph.D. in folklore.
He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1985 and a five-year MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1987.
Hasan is a member of the class of 2012.