Martin Farawell, Program Director, Poetry
In the video below, filmed at the 2008 Festival, Edward Hirsch stands before a capacity crowd of more than 2,000. Hirsch is halfway through a day of poetry conversations with educators who have come from all over the country to participate in Teacher Day. His excitement is palpable as he reads two of his poems, “A Partial History of My Stupidity” and “The Widening Sky.”
It is not surprising that Hirsch is so obviously delighted at being part of the group gathered under the Concert Tent. He deeply values the sense of community we can experience through poems. For Hirsch, poetry is eternal and global: When a poem speaks to us, even one written hundreds of years ago, we join with everyone who has ever read or heard that poem.
His poems almost seem acts of gratitude for having been allowed into this community. With that gratitude comes a deep respect for the difficulty of writing a poem. Hirsch has said that once he knew he wanted to be a poet, he thought “reading everything” was part of the job description. He understood that in order to make your own poems, you have to know how other poets made theirs.
Yet he wears his erudition lightly. “A Partial History of My Stupidity” opens with gentle humor concerning an immediately recognizable predicament: making a wrong turn that gets him hopelessly stranded in traffic. The language seems direct enough, and yet, as the poem progresses, the speaker’s self-indictments grow increasingly troubling.
The revelations in this poem, and in the closing lines of “The Widening Sky,” take us in directions we are not quite prepared for. In this, they are like most self-discoveries. Listening to Hirsch, it is easy to imagine he wasn’t ready for these revelations either. But once they emerged, he had to share them. Because that’s what poems are: one human being speaking to other human beings. And what we say to each other should matter.
“A Partial History of My Stupidity” appears in Edward Hirsch’s most recent collection, Special Orders, and “The Widening Sky” appears in Lay Back the Darkness. Visit the 2008 Dodge Poetry Festival Poet Pages for a biography of Edward Hirsch.
Be sure to return for upcoming Poetry Fridays, when we will feature many poets from past Dodge Poetry Festivals in the weeks ahead, including Jane Hirshfield, Ted Kooser, Maxine Kumin, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sharon Olds and others.