Ledger: Poems (Paperback)
A pivotal book of personal, ecological, and political reckoning tuned toward issues of consequence to all who share this world's current and future fate—"Some of the most important poetry in the world today" (Naomi Shihab Nye, The New York Times Magazine).
Ledger's pages hold the most important work yet by Jane Hirshfield, one of our most celebrated contemporary poets. From the already much-quoted opening lines of despair and defiance ("Let them not say: we did not see it. / We saw"), Hirshfield's poems inscribe a registry, both personal and communal, of our present-day predicaments.
They call us to deepened dimensions of thought, feeling, and action. They summon our responsibility to sustain one another and the earth while pondering, acutely and tenderly, the crises of refugees, justice, and climate. They consider "the minimum mass for a whale, for a language, an ice cap," recognize the intimacies of connection, and meditate upon doubt and contentment, a library book with previously dog-eared corners, the hunger for surprise, and the debt we owe this world's continuing beauty.
Hirshfield's signature alloy of fact and imagination, clarity and mystery, inquiry, observation, and embodied emotion has created a book of indispensable poems by a "modern master" (The Washington Post).
About the Author
JANE HIRSHFIELD is the author of nine books of poetry, including Ledger; The Beauty; Come, Thief; and Given Sugar, Given Salt. She is also the author of two now-classic collections of essays, Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry and Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World, and has edited and co-translated four books presenting the work of world poets from the past. Her books have received the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and the Donald Hall-Jane Kenyon Prize in American Poetry and have been finalists for The National Book Critics Circle Award and England's T. S. Eliot Prize and long-listed for the National Book Award. Hirshfield has received fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller Foundations, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets, and she presents her work at literary and interdisciplinary events worldwide. Her poems appear in The New Yorker, The Atlantic, The New York Review of Books, The Times Literary Supplement, The Washington Post, The New York Times, The New Republic, Harper's Magazine, and Poetry, and have been selected for ten editions of The Best American Poetry. A resident of Northern California, she is a 2019 elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
“In language of uncanny lyrical precision, Hirshfield's work redraws boundaries between the self and the natural world.” —Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe
“[Hirshfield] writes about what matters in the world . . . She is responsible with every word choice, every line a deliberate beat, each poem its own chrysalis of meaning . . . She gives you the observation of life as we’re all living it and the personal tragedy life entails, and then she slips in themes of planetary crisis. It’s the kind of gut punch good poems provide, the solid fist inside the velvet glove . . . This is a book to read front to back, then at random, then front to back again.” —Elizabeth Crane, Vox
“A clear, steadying voice, and a firm reminder of the immensity and promise of one human life within the vast mystery of the world that holds it . . . [Ledger] bears witness to Earth under duress—trees toppling, birds vanishing, oceans acidifying. But the poet holds no megaphone or manifesto. There’s a mournful quality to the work, a quiet and elegiac composure. The book is a ledger of loss and loss-to-come. Its subject is grim, but it is not a grim book. It’s a stirring call to action’s antecedent—awareness . . . For Hirshfield, every poem is a renewal of a lifelong intention to cultivate awareness.” —Colleen Morton Busch, Orion Magazine
“In her ninth book of poetry, Hirshfield, seeks to balance what we take with what we give, what we seek with what we find, what we observe with what we comprehend. In intimate poems of being, [she] poses meticulous equations of the self coping with doubt, hunger, age, and death. In equally balanced poems, she encompasses the ecological. Ledger perfectly embodies Hirshfield’s carefully weighted tone as she reckons with our constant subtraction of Earth’s life forces and incessant addition of carbon to our atmosphere, acid to our seas . . . Hirshfield is tender, witty, philosophical, and clarion, knowing us to be creatures of yes and no, credits and debits. ‘We were our own future, / a furnace invented to burn itself up.’” —Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Few search-artists have served as greater agents of transmutation than Jane Hirshfield—a poet of optimism and of lucidity, a champion of science and an ordained Buddhist, a poet who could write 'So few grains of happiness / measured against all the dark / and still the scales balance,' a poet who can balance and steady us against those times when we 'go to sleep in one world and wake in another' with her wondrous new collection, Ledger . . . this miraculous book . . . altogether re-saning.” —Maria Popova, Brainpickings.org
“Jane Hirshfield’s poems often feel like whole landscapes, graciously embracing the widest view and the tiniest sequins at once . . . Her longtime practice of Soto Zen Buddhism and her commitments to scientific knowledge and respect blend to create some of the most important poetry in the world today.” —Naomi Shihab Nye, The New York Times Magazine“Reading her work, I catch myself thinking that Hirshfield is the poet who orchestrates silences . . . It isn’t easy these days to find a poet who can do this while being also perfectly articulate and clear. Reading Hirshfield, I find myself coming back to Mahmoud Darwish’s idea that clarity is our ultimate mystery.” —Ilya Kaminsky, The Paris Review
“Intimate, tender free verse . . . Hirshfield perfectly captures our individual sense of lostness, faced with undeniable catastrophe, while invoking our collective responsibility.” —Fiona Sampson, The Guardian
“Ledger is a watershed . . . a culmination. [Hirshfield's] voice, always inclusive and generous, swells to new levels of relevance, revelation, and resonance in these pages . . . Many poems in Ledger feel eerily prescient about our current confinement, as in ‘Cataclysm’ when ‘fish unschool’ and ‘sheeps unflock to separately graze’ . . . Rather than give in to despair, these poems place their faith in simple perseverance, coupled with humble, personal action. They offer a larger, longer planetary perspective and provide the spiritual food needed to sustain the effort.” —Rebecca Foust, Women’s Voices for Change
“A new volume of poems by acclaimed poet Jane Hirshfield is an event. After reading the poems in Ledger—a capacious, varied volume—it seems as if ordinary life is richer and deeper than before . . . A Hirshfield poem is an exercise in opening the self . . . The value of such work is beyond question.” —Magdalena Kay, World Literature Today
“The vigilant, deeply observed poems in Ledger are an antidote to collective blindness.” —Jessica Zack, San Francisco Chronicle
“[Hirshfield] understands the world in all its happiness, melancholy, unpleasant surprise and moments of resilience.” —Amy Bloom, The New York Times“When a poet’s purpose is tied to our own fate, we tend to notice the poems more seriously because it’s not only the ‘dexterous pen and the beautiful hand,’ but a moral clarity we want . . . This happens while reading Hirshfield more than most . . . Writers are denizens of a complex world, figuring it out for us. They restore consciousness, rinse off language, and create a finer air. Hirshfield has done this for many years. Ledger continues that literary history. It is another invitation to find the many choices within ourselves.” —Grace Cavelieri, The Washington Independent Review of Books
“[Hirshfield’s] stark, powerful poems are crafted so simply they seem effortless. Constructed largely of nouns and verbs . . . it’s hard to understand how they manage to evoke such a range of emotion. And yet they do, with a voice that at times seems like an old-world prophet, at times like a Zen Master . . . What emerges as one reads this book is a sense of mourning for what’s lost, and a piercing delight in what is left. By calling attention to the facts and figures of loss, by offering up a reckoning, Ledger literally as well as figuratively reminds us of what counts.” — Meryl Natchez, ZYZZYVA
“Poet Jane Hirshfield fuses science, loss, and wonder in her new collection, Ledger . . . A tender and fearsome accounting of how humans have used and abused the planet. The poems are infused with loss, bafflement, and possibility.” —Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer, The Open Notebook
“Hirshfield’s ability to distill a single image with vodka clarity is on full display in her ninth collection . . . Whatever exquisite form these poems take, they carry a haiku spirit.” —Stephanie Pruitt-Gaines, BookPage
“Hirshfield tackles some of the biggest questions we face as living beings . . . Her poetry and essays move between scales vast and miniscule, balancing awe and mundanity, the out of the ordinary and the everyday.” —Marie Scarles, Tricycle
“Masterful . . . Hirshfield urges a reckoning of human influence on—and interference with—the planet . . . [Her] world is one filled with beauty, from the ‘generosity’ of grass to humanity’s connection to the muskrat. This is both a paean and a heartbreaking plea.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Zen poetry for a bleak era . . . An exploration of the capacity for life, its value and purpose . . . Hirshfield’s hand is deft . . . We look very closely at an object or statement before lifting it to discover what else it can tell us about ourselves; a light shined outward, then the camera angle shifts and the light is back on us . . . Hirshfield’s collection does exactly what we expect, and a little more—more of the personal, more of the contemporary world and its problems, more transcendence through art.” —Genevieve Walker, San Francisco Chronicle