Vocabularies of Being

A Conversation with Jane Hirshfield

October 11, 2023

Sam speaks with poet and essayist Jane Hirshfield. They discuss Jane’s poems “Habit,” “Many-Roofed Building in Moonlight,” “​​A Cedary Fragrance,” “It Was Like This: You Were Happy,” and “Three Times My Life Has Opened,” all of which she recites.

They also discuss Jane’s experience as a member of Princeton’s first graduating class with women; the creative power of beginner’s mind; poetry as a hybrid art form; Jane’s years-long “detour” at America’s first Buddhist monastery; distinguishing between lineages and teachers; various frameworks of Buddhist practice; Jane’s experience with psychedelics; the Japanese poem that changed Jane’s life; the deliberateness of practice vs. the automaticity of routine; how a Miles Davis record inspired Jane’s first glimpse of non-duality; the fundamental unknowability of other people; and other topics.

Jane Hirshfield, in poems described by The Washington Post as belonging “among the modern masters” and in The New York Times Magazine as “among the most important poetry in the world today,” addresses the urgent immediacies of our time. A practitioner of Soto Zen for almost fifty years, she received lay-ordination in 1979 in the San Francisco Zen Center lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. Hirshfield’s honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, Rockefeller Foundations, and the National Endowment for the Arts. She has received the Poetry Center Book Award, the California Book Award, and Columbia University’s Translation Center Award. Her books have been finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, National Book Award, and England’s T.S. Eliot Prize in Poetry. Her latest collection is The Asking: New and Selected Poems.