Her work gravitates toward the point where the philosophical, emotional, and sensual realms intersect. 'To Judgment: An Assay,' for example, contains metaphysical and imagistic investigations of its subject, but also records the poet's internal struggle with the role judgment plays in a life. Hirshfield's introductory definition of the subtitle 'assay' illumines the approach of many of her poems: the term, she says, is used as it is "in the mining industry, where a substance is disassembled and analysed to determine the strengths and quality of its various parts; only in this case the examination is done with the imaginative mind rather than the chemical one."
Here is a poet who can state that "immensity taps at your life", as Hirshfield does in describing a great redwood in 'Tree', a poem balancing the calm existence of those large, long-lived trees and the transitory, daily understandings of our human lives. A philosophical temperament does not, however, mean other emotions, such as love, rage and anguish, are absent. 'The Adamantine Perfection of Desire' deals with the irrefutable power of that human drive, showing how, at last, "The living cannot help but love the world." 'The Poet' and 'Manners / Rwanda', in turn, demonstrate Hirshfield's keen awareness of "the wider sufferings of the world", suffering acknowledged as a "privilege to know only from newspapers", as her introduction to the latter poem has it.
Formally, her work can range from subtly cadenced free verse, through the hypnotic rhetoric and repetition of 'Spell To Be Said Upon Departure', to the form she calls "wandering rhyme," heard perhaps most clearly in 'Milk', where it lends a shaping music to Hirshfield's stringent exploration of a seemingly harmless commodity. In her performance here, she reads with measured calmness, approaching her own poetry as Robert Pinsky states her essays do the poems of others, "in a way that feels exactly right to me: plainly, reverently, intelligently."
This recording was made on the 28th November, 2007 at the Command Productions, Sausalito, California and was produced by Dave Radlauer.