Friday, October 3, 2014

The Limits of Poetry


I am reading Edward Hirsch’s “How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry”.  It is his own Ode to poetry…a Hymn of praise…264 pages long.   It is a love letter to the poems that touch his heart, bring meaning to his life arouse his feelings and that enrich and comfort him. 


In 2011, Hirsch experienced the sudden loss of his son, Gabriel and found no solace in the poems that once impassioned his heart and quieted his mind. Gabriel, 22 years of age, died
from the club drug GHB that someone gave him at a party. It was a harrowing three days before Hirsch found out what had happened to his son. 
Father and son - Blois, France - Kathleen Tyler Conklin

Hirsch stopped reading and writing poetry after this traumatic shock.  But he began to record the memories of his son by talking with friends and relatives, writing them down compulsively and haphazardly.  After a while his outpouring of words began to take the shape of a poem.  It became a 70 page elegy to his son; a book length poem recently published called “Gabriel”.  The New Yorker called it a “masterpiece of sorrow”.


The poem is written in three-line stanzas without punctuation…a kind of stream of consciousness, a deluge of memories, love and grief.  Perhaps an effort to etch Gabriel’s spirit on the bring him to life with words. Hirsch admits he put everything he could into his poem, but also had to face what poetry could not do.  His passion had been cooled by this tragedy.  He had a new awareness…that poetry has limits. “It cannot give us back the people we have lost.”


And yet, in a sense by writing this astounding elegy, Hirsch has given Gabriel to us.