poem index

Poet-to-Poet: Edward Hirsch, "Fast Break"

About this poet

Edward Hirsch was born in Chicago on January 20, 1950 and educated both at Grinnell College and the University of Pennsylvania, where he received a PhD in folklore.

His first collection of poems, For the Sleepwalkers (Alfred A. Knopf), was published in 1981 and went on to receive the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Since then, he has published several books of poems, most recently The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011); Special Orders (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008); Lay Back the Darkness (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003); On Love (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998); Earthly Measures (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994); and The Night Parade (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989).

He is also the author of A Poet's Glossary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014); The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (Harcourt, 2002); Responsive Reading (University of Michigan Press, 1999); and the national bestseller How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (Harcourt, 1999), which the poet Garrett Hongo called "the product of a lifetime of passionate reflection" and "a wonderful book for laureate and layman both." Hirsch is also the author of Poet's Choice (Harcourt, 2007), which collects two years' worth of his weekly essay-letters running in the Washington Post Book World.

About his poetry, the poet Dana Goodyear wrote for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, "It takes a brave poet to follow Homer, Virgil, Dante, and Milton into the abyss . . . Hirsch's poems [are] compassionate, reverential, sometimes relievingly ruthless."

Hirsch’s honors include an Academy of Arts and Letters Award, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Writers' Award, the Rome Prize from the American Academy in Rome, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

He has been a professor of English at Wayne State University and the University of Houston. Hirsch is currently the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

In 2008, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He lives in New York City.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (Alfred A. Knopf, 2011)
Special Orders (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008)
Lay Back the Darkness (Alfred A. Knopf, 2003)
On Love (Alfred A. Knopf, 1998)
Earthly Measures (Alfred A. Knopf, 1994)
The Night Parade (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989)
Wild Gratitude (Alfred A. Knopf, 1986)
For the Sleepwalkers (Alfred A. Knopf, 1981)

Prose

A Poet's Glossary (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014)
Poet's Choice (Harcourt, 2007)
The Demon and the Angel: Searching for the Source of Artistic Inspiration (Harcourt, 2002)
Responsive Reading (University of Michigan Press, 1999)
How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (Harcourt, 1999)

Fast Break

Edward Hirsch, 1950
In Memory of Dennis Turner, 1946-1984

A hook shot kisses the rim and
hangs there, helplessly, but doesn’t drop,

and for once our gangly starting center
boxes out his man and times his jump

perfectly, gathering the orange leather
from the air like a cherished possession 

and spinning around to throw a strike
to the outlet who is already shoveling

an underhand pass toward the other guard
scissoring past a flat-footed defender 

who looks stunned and nailed to the floor
in the wrong direction, trying to catch sight

of a high, gliding dribble and a man 
letting the play develop in front of him

in slow motion, almost exactly
like a coach’s drawing on the blackboard,

both forwards racing down the court
the way that forwards should, fanning out

and filling the lanes in tandem, moving
together as brothers passing the ball

between them without a dribble, without 
a single bounce hitting the hardwood

until the guard finally lunges out
and commits to the wrong man

while the power-forward explodes past them
in a fury, taking the ball into the air

by himself now and laying it gently
against the glass for a lay-up,

but losing his balance in the process,
inexplicably falling, hitting the floor

with a wild, headlong motion
for the game he loved like a country

and swiveling back to see an orange blur
floating perfectly through the net. 

From Wild Gratitude. Alfred A. Knopf, 1986.

Edward Hirsch

Edward Hirsch

Born in Chicago on January 20, 1950, Edward Hirsch is a poet and literary advocate. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (Knopf, 1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award

by this poet

poem
Today I am pulling on a green wool sweater 
and walking across the park in a dusky snowfall. 

The trees stand like twenty-seven prophets in a field, 
each a station in a pilgrimage—silent, pondering. 

Blue flakes of light falling across their bodies 
are the ciphers of a secret, an occultation. 

I will
poem
My father in the night shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream
and ease his restless passage.

Lay back the darkness for a salesman
who could charm everything but the shadows,

an immigrant who stands on the threshold
of a vast night
poem
Lay these words into the dead man's grave
next to the almonds and black cherries---
tiny skulls and flowering blood-drops, eyes,
and Thou, O bitterness that pillows his head.

Lay these words on the dead man's eyelids
like eyebrights, like medieval trumpet flowers
that will flourish, this time, in the shade.
Let

collected in

collection
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