Jane Hirshfield (Part 2) – Exploring Life Through Poetry & Practice: The Art of Asking and Opening to Life’s Deepest Questions

Jane Hirshfield spiritual poet Zen practice

Many time award-winning poet Jane Hirshfield has spent her life steeped in poetry and spiritual practice. Here, we feel almost as if we’ve been invited into her kitchen to talk about life, love, and especially about poems and how they offer us various answers to the abiding questions: who are we, what are we, what is our relationship to each other, what must we be grateful toward? Jane describes poems as vessels of discovery and poetry as taking your understanding and putting it into a form that is holdable, retrievable, transmissible. Poems can also be keys to unlock our despair, she explains, creating a crack in the darkness, a re-entrance to the possibility of wholeness. Jane’s sublime poetry is many-layered; the same poem might be about human love or peace between nations, about the end of love or the fact that love never dies. Jane shares that her lifetime of questioning (her most recent book of new and selected poetry is titled The Asking) has boiled down to one question: How can I serve?

An awareness of our interconnectedness with all beings, all of life, permeates her work, and Jane is driven to provoke action on contemporary, pressing issues of biosphere, peace, and justice, and help us navigate the tightrope between hope and despair. The conversation also turns to early feminism and the poetry of women mystics that Jane put together in a beautiful anthology called Women in Praise of the Sacred, covering 43 centuries of spiritual poetry by women. When asked about her longtime Zen practice, Jane said, “I needed to become more of a human being, understand a different way of living inside this life I had been given” to become a good poet. She tells us that both poetry and Zen are paths of discovery, exploration, and awareness, and both paths insist that we attend to this world fully. This is a warm, personal, deeply illuminating, and thought provoking conversation, and Jane reads several of her poems, revealing their depth and beauty. Recorded November 30, 2023.

“I don’t want a model of spirituality that excludes other forms of connection. Inclusion is the only path that makes sense.”

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Topics & Time Stamps – Part 2

  • How can we become a magnet for creative imagination? (00:49) 
  • Artist retreats are the monastery of creativity (03:51)
  • How Jane was drawn towards poetry, haiku, and Buddhist understanding early on (07:56)
  • In 3-year retreat at Tassajara, writing wasn’t permitted, and how poetry returned after the monastic years (12:40)
  • Both poetry and Zen are paths that insist you attend to this world fully (14:12)
  • Women poets throughout history and the story of Enheduanna, earliest known poet (18:07)
  • Protofeminist movement in the Middle Ages: the Beguines (25:08)
  • Reading of Mechthild of Magdeburg’s poem, and how we carry a molecule of divine remembrance with us (26:56)
  • Spiritual poems of male and female mystics, are they different? (30:12)
  • Poems of the sacred rather than poems of suffering: dark nights of the soul come after moments of awakening as much as before (33:19)
  • Spiritual poems often use the language of eros, and how inclusion of all forms of connection is the only path that makes sense  (35:01) 
  • Women have found their voice…yet women have always written poetry (37:09)
  • Reading of “The Poet,” a 1996 poem about poems that have never been published (39:01)
  • “I Imagine Myself in Time” reading (44:12)

Resources & References – Part 2

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Jane Hirshfield spiritual poet Zen practice

Jane Hirshfield, writing “some of the most important poetry in the world today” (The New York Times Magazine), is one of American poetry’s central spokespersons for concerns of the biosphere. Hirshfield’s honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations and National Endowment for the Arts, the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award,  and finalist selection for the National Book Critics Circle Award. The author of two now-classic collections of essays on poetry’s infrastructure and craft, and editor and co-translator of four books presenting world poets from the deep past, Hirshfield’s work, translated into seventeen languages, appears in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, and ten editions of The Best American Poems. A former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, she was elected in 2019 into the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Her most recently published collection of poetry is The Asking: New & Selected Poems (Knopf, 2023).

Podcast produced by Vanessa Santos and Show Notes by Heidi Mitchell

Besides his passion for getting the invaluable conversations on the Deep Transformation Podcast out to the world, co-host John Dupuy is also dedicated to encouraging the use of brainwave entrainment technology for its transformative effects. John has been working personally and professionally with brainwave entrainment technology since 2004, and in 2010, he co-founded iAwake Technologies to help create high quality soundtracks using this technology, which supports the healing of emotional/shadow issues, deepens meditation, mental focus, creativity, and flow states, and enhances a daily integral transformative practice.

To experience the effects for yourself, you can download a free sample of the Stealing Flow Warm-up track here, for a 25-minute, full-spectrum, whole-brain workoutWe hope you enjoy it!