Dear Holly

I’m sorry it took me so long to read your copy of Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. It was like eating a very rich bar of dark chocolate: in order to savor it, I had to break off tiny chunks. So I took my time, inserting little blue and green flags when I reached a passage I wanted to remember. I’ve left the flags in place. They’re peeking out of every few pages, but they’re easy to remove. I found I couldn’t remove them myself.

Jane Hirshfield has an enchanted synergy with poetry, and with words in general. I like so much of what she says about writing – though I know her words will slide away almost immediately from my very slippery mind – which is why I sprinkled the book liberally with flags.

Toward the end of the book, she says, “It is the task of the writer to become…permeable and transparent; to become, in the words of Henry James, a person on whom nothing is lost.”

One of the poets Hirshfield summons up is Robert Lowell, who says about being that person, “Why not say what happened?” I was struck by this line, and looked up the source, in a poem called “Epilogue.” It says, in part:

…why not say what happened?
Pray for the grace of accuracy
Vermeer gave to the sun’s illumination
stealing like the tide across a map
to his girl solid with yearning.

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