I attended a livestreamed reading and talk called Poetry & the Wild: A Reading and Conversation with Jane Hirshfield last Thursday. Hosted by Tom Fleischner, of the Natural History Institute, the conversation touched on poetry, Zen, natural history… whale trails, Poets for Science, climate change, and much more.
Hirshfield is a poet who’s embraced, or perhaps entered, the natural world more than many. Her Zen practice informed many of her observations. “When the self disappears, the self is happiest” she said, discussing the need to be open to observation in order to engage fully with the world. And citing Robinson Jeffers – “falling in love outward”.
She was asked, how does poetry help us? It’s thinking and understanding with the whole body, she replied. Poetry is a journey of discovery for her, as a reader and a writer. With all that is before us just now, she said, poetry can provide assistance towards a sense of resilience. It can help us engage with what feels beyond understanding — or simply respond to a curiosity. You want to be left changed when you read a poem, and “to find wholeness among the broken”.
When she asked in return why natural history? the answer was also zen-like: the practice of focused attentiveness to the more than human world; “the practice of falling in love with the natural world”, and an observation that natural history should be seen as a verb rather than a noun. And nurtures the deeper feelings about engagement with the world that poetry does.
Fleischner quoted Hirshfield’s own words: “Everything changes, everything is connected, pay attention.”