Photo: Julie Dermansky
Finding that irresistible thing in your life that you can't live without can be a struggle, but once you discover it, don't let go! Poet Edward Hirsch shares how he uncovered his passion for poetry and why he was determined to make it his life's purpose.
I started writing poetry as a teenager in suburban Chicago out of emotional desperation. I was overwhelmed by feelings I couldn't understand, emotions that were so powerful and intense, so unusual to me, that I thought I would drown. I wanted to express what I was feeling, to make sense of it, to give it order and shape, to transform it. I needed help to keep my head above water. I hit upon writing lyric poems, which are short and intense; lyrics put tremendous pressure on the sounds of words, and they break up sentences into lines, which are rhythmic experiences. Poems mesmerized me, and I felt better when I was writing them, or trying to, more in touch with something deep and dark within myself.
I grew up in a middle-class house without books, without art. No one around me wrote poetry or even read it. Even my teachers seemed indifferent to it. The sole literary presence from my childhood was my grandfather, a Jewish immigrant from Latvia, who eccentrically copied poems into the backs of his books. After he died, when I was 8 years old, my grandmother gave his books away, and his poems were lost. My family had always noted the strong physical resemblance between us, but after I began writing poems in high school, those lost poems also became part of my legacy, an incitement from the past. Even though I was on my own, I felt less lonely because I was carrying on something that my grandfather had almost willed to me. I wanted to live up to that inadvertent gift, to use it to make contact with others. I decided to become a poet.
How Edward began to pursue this passion