The Living Fire book cover
Photo: Courtesy of Knopf
The oldest word for poetry in ancient Greek is poesis, which means "making." A poet is a maker, and a poem is a made thing. Poetry is not simply a medium for raw self-expression, but an art, and I set out to learn everything I could about that art, to become worthy of its long history, worthy of the great dead who practiced it over the centuries, to school my passions. The desire to find other solitaries, writers who were struggling to give voice to their joys and torments through language, led me in college to the great poets of the past. I read them with a wild excitement and longing, and I took them as inspiration for my own poems. As I expanded my reading and developed my craft, I felt that I was participating in a long and noble enterprise. The poets who have meant so much to me became a kind of second family, and they offered me worlds and languages, devastations and delights, models and pathways beyond my upbringing.

Those poets always companioned me, especially when I faced fierce opposition, sometimes from the people closest to me. My parents wanted their oldest son to become a doctor or a lawyer; being a poet was not on their radar. But I felt strongly that poetry was my life's purpose, and I was absolutely determined to live out that purpose. I am 60 years old now, and I have just published my new and selected poems, which brings together 35 years of work. I feel as powerfully as I ever did the true nobility of poetry, the urgency of trying to get something right in language, what it means to be a maker. I have tried to leave behind a record of my intensities, my exultations and despairs, my immersion in the living fire.

Read a poem from Edward's book The Living Fire

Edward Hirsch is a poet, teacher, literary critic and tireless advocate for poetry. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award. In 2008, he was elected a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. In March 2010, Knopf released The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems, which brings together 35 years of Hirsch's poems. He is now the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and lives in New York City.

Discover the Poet in You


Next Story