Cover Image: The Heart of American Poetry

The Heart of American Poetry

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Member Reviews

Having read of Hirsch and poems by Hirsch, largely thanks to spending time on the Poetry Foundation, I knew I wanted to read this book. Also, the fact that I truly loved and enjoyed other books published by the Library of America, including African American Poetry: : 250 Years Of Struggle & Song, added to my must-read-ness for this book!

And I am so glad I requested it from NetGalley (thank you NetGalley and Library of America). While I do mention that I am done with reading about a third of the book, the format of this book allows readers to pick and choose from the forty poems selected by Hirsch here. Which is what I did; among the poems (and analysis + a look into the poet’s life) I read so far, a couple of my favorites are Hirsch’s analysis of Gwendolyn Brook’s included poem ‘A Bronzeville Mother Loiters in Mississippi. Meanwhile, a Mississippi Mother Burns Bacon,’ and Longfellow’s ‘The Jewish Cemetery at Newport.;

I am learning a lot from reading his personal perspective of the poem as well as his expert analysis. Through the book, readers can better understand how to read and dissect poetry; that is, though each reader approaches a poem (or anything for that matter) differently, looking at it from Hirsch’s view is providing me a whole new world of viewpoints.

In addition, I am loving all the biographical aspects Hirsch includes for each poet, and the boost to my vocabulary too!! Last but not the least, the book is definitely doing a wonderful job of introducing me to poets and poems I have not read before, so thank you!

In Summary
A must-have for poetry lovers, and for those who want to learn to understand poetry better as well.

Source: e-ARC from NetGalley
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This was an enjoyable book to read. Hirsh’s essays are very thoughtful and offer new and thoughtful insights into some lovely poems, there is great variety in his selections, and there is certainly something in this volume that any student of poetry can learn from and gain inspiration by.
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This book is fantastic, covering not only a profound collection of poems but also the analysis that pertains to those poems. The collection of poems and the analysis are both included in this book. I plan to give it one more reading in the near future.
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This book is not what I expected it to be. I might not be well read in the area of American poetry, but even I can see that there were several poets missing from this anthology that should have made the list. Also, I feel like this shouldn't have been called The Heart of American Poetry, but rather Edward Hirsch's Favorite American Poems. The poems he selected were good, but I could have done without the longwinded essays after them. This felt kind of like a book that would be required reading for a college course on poetry and not casual reading.
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To me, there will always be poets missing in an anthology like this, so I accept it is one person's take on forty poems. I felt as if I were attending mini-lectures, or small Bread Loaf lessons, which makes this an anthology to consume slowly and appreciate as we move along. 

I read this via NetGalley and would like to purchase a copy to read again, with more attention and a slower pace. It strikes me as a good one to keep in my permanent library.
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A broad survey of American poetry over the years, with analysis by the author of the collection. The poems chosen are based more on what’s meaningful to the author than to serve as a general survey of American poetry, so be aware going into it that these are largely lesser known works. Each poem is accompanied by biographical background and analysis by the author, whose contributions are fairly academic in tone. This wasn’t quite what I expected, but it’s a decent and considered collection of American poetry from different eras.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for the ARC.
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this is an anthology of what the author's view of poetry via his essay and chosen works of poetry which he likes, it was not the mainstream poets we love and have come to know from many books but more a different list of poets and their works. that wet your interest to not stay stale but to try out other poets, I love poetry and certainly this author is an educator of the poetry and the how to look at it. I highly recommend this book for the not so faint of heart poetry lovers.
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This book was really what I thought.  It's not as much about good poetry and poetry that people have deemed important over the years - it's more about poems that Edward Hirsch himself likes, and then some lengthy essays about the poem and the author's life.  It's not bad, it's just a little long winded and not what I thought.
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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher Library of America for an advanced copy of this collection of American poetry and song. 

Poetry speaks to both the heart and the soul, and even more to the mind. A poem or a song ca stir up thoughts of longing, remorse, remiss, want and desire which feeds or batters the soul, but can also make the mind long for more, a better life, a better place, just to be better. Poems speak to the now, and are a reflection of the now a still of the past told in words that show what life was like, what the poet longs it to be, to be looked at in our now, and see how little has changed, or even become worse. Writer, educator and biographer of poems Edward Hirsch in his book The Heart of American Poetry collected works that he feels describe America, how it was and how it has changed, with works by various poets and songwriters.

The book starts with an introduction by Hirsch about himself and how he came to find and adore poetry and poems. This is followed by a brief discussion about poetry in America and how it has been looked at, reviewed and sometimes taught. This collection came together during the start of COVID, so choices, and even discussions might reflect those odd times, that looking back seem like the last glimpse of a sane country. 40 poems presented in order of the poet's birth are presented, from Anne Bradstreet to Joy Harjo complete with essays featuring both commentary and biography. Songs are included, such as Robert Johnson's Crossroads, a song covered by many a bar act and famous British singers. 

The book is actually a class on poetry in  book form, complete with a syllabus of works and lots of discussion. Hirsch in his essays roams all over, covering the poems, the way they were presented, history around them and and the effect on others. Analysis of musical history and the keys that a song would be played in, plus biographical sketches about the poet, and what the poems mean to him. This is more of a personal choice than a study of poetry in America. These were chosen by him, for him for readers to learn from. People might be surprised by those that are absent, or even the poems that were opted for as representation of the writers. However as much can be learned and shared by the essays, and frankly there are no real dud works in the book, his choices tend to make sense.

Definitely a book for literature students and fans of poetry. A good overview of American works, with excellent commentary that gives a reader much to agree with, or to argue with. That is the great thing about these kind of books. A great gift for poets and songwriters also to see what works, what does not, and what might touch someone's soul a hundred years from now.
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I don't think this is accurately "the heart of American poetry" as much as Edward Hirsch's 40 favorite poets and a poem by each. He has a long essay following each poem where he talks about the poem and the poet's life, generally also going into a few lines of other works by the poet. The poems stretch through American history chronologically and have some representation of POC, women, etc. but it still feels very much like the poets you'd be required to read in Poetry 101. It's also frustrating that he often picked lesser-known poems that really don't seem like the poets' best works.

Almost none of my favorite poets are included in this anthology, which is not surprising but is disappointing. Missing American poets whom I love include Anne Sexton, Edgar Allen Poe, Nicky Finney, e.e. cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay and Rose Hartwick Thorpe, just to name a few.

I also found that the essays tended to be so long and dry. There were a few cases where I learned interesting things about poets but in many cases I found myself skimming these sections because they felt so much like a droning college lecture. They will be illuminating and interesting to those who are very much like the author and his peers, but I don't think they will get anybody into poetry who wasn't already and certainly won't make poetry seem accessible to those who see it as dry and confusing. The book is still a good read and I found some new poems and poets, but I had hoped for more.

I read a digital ARC of this book for review.
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My Thoughts:
At 480 pages, this book is a semester class on how to read certain American poems. It is a lecture series by professor Hirsch as he first "reads" the original poems then gives his personal and academic essay/lecture on the reading of that particular poem from his lens. 

This is not a YA book as is most other books that I review on this blog, but this is a professional development book for teachers who want to remember that our teaching English language arts most likely stemmed from our deep passion for literature. This book will remind us all of that deep passion. 

I was especially intrigued about Hirsch's take on Garrett Hongo's "Ancestral Graves, Kahuku" as well as current poet laureate Joy Harjo's "Rabbit is Up to Tricks" mostly because I like how living poets talk about other living poets, most of whom at this level probably at least know each other, and in Hongo's case at least, have spent intimate family time with Hirsch. The Hongo poem, "Ancestral Graves, Kahuku" is actually for Edward Hirsch who accompanied Hongo in mid-June 1986 to his family grave where this memoir-poem comes from. 

Hongo is a yonsei (4th generation) Japanese American born in Volcano, Hawai'i and raised in both Hawai'i and Los Angeles. When my parents moved to Volcano, Hawai'i in the 80's, there were two general stores in Volcano village, one being the Hongo store owned by Garrett Hongo's grandfather. The store has been renamed the Kilauea General Store, but the owners still keep the old Hongo Store sign. Like my own personal anecdote to this poet, Hirsch includes his own personal connections in his essays, which is what makes this book a master class in the art of a great lecture series. 
There are so many notes that I kept for myself. I think that because Hirsch is also a poet, his eye for a poignant imagery as well as his prose style catches my ear as poetry does. 

Garrett Hongo is a poet of historical loss and personal recovery.
Hirsch uses these large hooks like above to go through the individual poems, chunking them into nuggets like a beach comber who finds an interesting piece of sea glass in the sand, picks it up to examine it, then puts it back down. The last image of the poem "Kahuku"  ends with "As we move off, back toward our car,/the grim constant/Muttering from the sea/a cool sutra in our ears." Hirsch picks up that piece of sea glass, "a cool sutra in our ears," stating "It is both prayer and injunction." The lecturer surely pauses there before moving on as the reverberation of the sutra vibrates into our breathing.


From the Publisher:
An acclaimed poet and our greatest champion for poetry offers an inspiring and insightful new reading of the American tradition

We live in unsettled times. What is America and who are we as a people? How do we understand the dreams and betrayals that have shaped the American experience? For poet and critic Edward Hirsch, poetry opens up new ways of answering these questions, of reconnecting with one another and with what’s best in us.
 
In this landmark new book from Library of America, Hirsch offers deeply personal readings of forty essential American poems we thought we knew—from Anne Bradstreet’s “The Author to Her Book” and Phillis Wheatley’s “To S.M. a Young African Painter, on seeing his Works” to Garrett Hongo’s “Ancestral Graves, Kahuku” and Joy Harjo’s “Rabbit Is Up to Tricks”—exploring how these poems have sustained his own life and how they might uplift our diverse but divided nation. 
 
“This is a personal book about American poetry,” writes Hirsch, “but I hope it is more than a personal selection. I have chosen forty poems from our extensive archive and songbook that have been meaningful to me,
part of my affective life, my critical consideration, but I have also tried to be cognizant of the changing playbook in American poetry, which is not fixed but fluctuating, ever in flow, to pay attention to the wider consideration, the appreciable reach of our literature. This is a book of encounters and realizations.”

Publication date: April 19, 2022
Publisher: Library of America
Author: Edward Hirsch
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Edward Hirsch's new book The Heart of American Poetry satiates my longing to study Poetry and literature in a more academic setting. Each chapter dives into a different well loved poem, such as Emma Lazrus's "New Colussus", "Dickonson's Because I Did Not Stop For Death" and Edwin Robinsons "Eros Turannos," to offer an analysis of the poem. The analysis  dives into the use of different poetic devices and biographical tidbits of the poets lives to contextualize each poem.

Personally it was challenging to set aside; however the short essays could easily be savored over time. Hirsch's other books helped me expand my knowledge of poetry and this one followed suit. Scholars and lovers of poetry will want to have this book on their shelves.

Thanks to Netgalley for the advanced readers  copy!
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This is a collection of American poetry paired with essays by Edward Hirsch in which he provides background on each poet and poem along with thoughts of the vision of America in each poem. As I expect in any collection, I enjoyed some poems more than others, and I didn't think the essays added much to the experience.
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This is a wonderful collection of some very well known poets and some I haven’t heard of before. 
Highly recommend.
Poetry has a way of speaking directly to the soul. These poems do that brilliantly.
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Edward Hirsch is surely qualified to author this title. He has authored a number of books of both poetry and prose. I previously reviewed his 100 Poems to Break Your Heart.

This is an erudite, personal, well-edited collection of poetry ranging from Phyllis Wheatley through Joy Harjo. Just some of the poets whose works are here include Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Amy Lowell, Marianne Moore, T.S. Eliot, Langston Hughes, Muriel Rukeyser, Gwendolyn Brooks and, John Ashbery among many others. This is truly a college level poetry class in a book. I highly recommend it. The Heart of American Poetry is a title to which I will return again and again.

Many thanks to NetGalley and the Library of America for this title. All opinions are my own. Note that all profits from this title will be used to support the mission of the nonprofit Library of America.

This title will be published on 19 Apr 2022
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This book presents forty poems from prominent American poets, interspersed with essays by Hirsch offering background on the poet, the poem, and how the poem reflects upon America. It’s a fine collection of poems, and a thoughtful discussion of them. There will be something new to most readers. While most of the poets are well-known and while there are a few highly anthologized poems: e.g. Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus,” Dickinson’s #479 [Because I Could Not Stop for Death,] and Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” there are many more off the beaten path selections to be discovered. 

	As for whether the selection captures the heart of American poetry, on that wouldn’t necessarily agree. That said, it’s presented as Hirsch’s personal selection; the pieces in it are great poems, and he has as much right to his views as anyone. The anthology does capture many elements of the American poetic voice. It does a fine job of capturing the many strains of dissent, critique, and resistance from the Harlem Renaissance (e.g. Langston Hughes) to that of the indigenous peoples (e.g. Joy Harjo) to the Beats (e.g. Allen Ginsberg.) What Hirsch seems less comfortable with is the Whitmanian voice of affection and admiration for the country. In writing about Whitman and Frost, Hirsch makes comments about their lack of appeal to him, apparently their respective unbridled positivity and folksiness were found unbecoming of a poet. I felt the fact that Hirsch had to search out one of Whitman’s more angsty and dark compositions in order to be happy with Whitman’s inclusion was telling (Hirsch could hardly leave Whitman out and present the book as capturing the essence of American poetry.) 

The anthology reflects much of the cultural and artistic diversity seen in America, but it eschews the middle America voice (i.e. 70% of the poems are from New Jersey and northward up the Atlantic coast, and while New York may be the country’s cultural and publishing capital, skilled poets from South of the Mason-Dixon and more than 150 miles from the Atlantic coast aren’t as much rare flukes as this anthology would suggest.) 

I enjoyed reading this anthology, and I learned a great deal from the essays that went along with each poem. The book is definitely worth reading. Mopey Plath-loving New Yorkers are more likely to find it representative of the voice of American poetry than sanguine Whitman-loving Hoosiers, but it’s an enlightening read, either way.
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Edward Hirsch has compiled an eclectic collection of poetry written by Americans, some well-known and some less so. The poems are accompanied with essays which help the reader understand the environment within which the authors were writing.

Though I only recently found a new appreciation for poetry, I think if this book had been the first I had stumbled upon to refresh my exposure to this genre, I would have said, “No, thank you.” There is little to unite the pieces included except (as indicated in the title) it is American Poetry. As I read, I felt as if I were back in my very unsatisfying freshman literature class. As I did, so many years ago, I would walk away and say, “No more!”

Some of the poems were engaging, but many were not. The result is a collection, a book, that receives only three stars from this reader.
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This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions expressed are mine alone.
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Library of America is a venerable publisher in preserving the American literary heritage and when it publishes an anthology that suggests to go to “The Heart of American Poetry,” it raises the expectations and excites the lovers of the U.S. literary tradition. However, very soon it becomes clear that it should have been subtitled “Personal Anthology” for the anthology in many ways reflects Hirsch’s personal taste and choices. In his introduction, Hirsch sheds some light on his intimate understanding of what constitutes the American poetic tradition. He is also open that he worked on this anthology during the Covid-19 quarantine that prevented him from accessing his library and forced him to rely on his memory. I think that these two factors contributed to some of the weaknesses of this anthology.

There are many strengths, above all in Hirsch’s perceptive readings of individual poems. Some essays are almost entirely his commentaries on the selected poems and a reader would not find much more about Robert Frost or Wallace Stevens as poets, for example, except for an astute analysis of a single poem (by each) of his choice. The strongest chapters, however, also discuss the poems in the context of the poet’s overall writings and life, literary influences, and general socio-cultural currents.

While a number of major poets are well represented, there is evidently quite an idiosyncratic inclusion as well as exclusion of others. It is certainly welcome to present the so-called ”minor” poets whose valuable contribution is convincingly argued in his essays, such as Emma Lazarus, Robert Johnson or Julia de Burgos. But it is mystifying that Hirsch opted for a number of other lesser known poets without a broader justification except for essaying on his personal connections, while bypassing the acknowledged greats, someone like Robert Lowell, or, from the 19th century, Edgar Alan Poe and Emerson, all of whom have made an important imprint on the American canon.

One of the noble guiding ideas is that Hirsch “tried to remain conscious of our diversiform ancestry and heritage” (p. xvi). And, in light of the recent rise of an anti-immigrant wave, Hirsch makes a powerful and commendable statement by including “The New Colossus” penned by Emma Lazarus and inscribed in the pedestal of The Statue of Liberty. But then the immigrant theme with its major bilingual representatives, such as Brodsky or Simic, both of whom were elected as US Poet Laurates, is mostly ignored.

If Hirsch wanted to present different and complex social, historical, and cultural currents in America as reflected in its poetry, which is clear from his essays, then this project only partly succeeded as the poets from the West Coast, Midwest and the South are scarcely presented. There is also a certain measure of inconsistency. For example, Hirsch takes a refreshing approach to American poetry that “moves fluently between speech and song” in an included song by the blues singer Robert Johnson, but then it would have been apt to include Bob Dylan (even referred to in the context of the blues heritage, p. 229) or Lou Reed (also mentioned in the introduction with the quoted lyrics on p. xxv) who lent the same voice to a different generation.

The choice of poems is also occasionally idiosyncratic, foregoing some of the greatest poems for lesser known ones and, as such, the anthology does not quite fit its description as a collection of “forty essential American poems.” Theodore Roethke’s “My Pappa’sWaltz”, one of his most anthologized poems, is arguably more “essential” for this poet than his “Cuttings.” Or Marianne Moore’s famous two versions of “The Poetry” are foregone for “The Steeple-Jack”, as good as it is.

Overall, the anthology succeeds in those brilliant essays when Hirsch is less personal, but its idiosyncrasy still gets in the way to call it “The Heart of American Poetry.”

My thanks to the publisher, Library of America, for an ARC via NetGalley.

3.5/5
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The Heart of American Poetry by Edward Hirsch is both an analysis of various poems that have spoken to Hirsch as well as a glimpse at how many different ways there are to read and understand poetry.

On the surface, this is an inclusive collection of forty poems, each accompanied by a brief essay on Hirsch's reading. Don't be mislead by any reviewer who only names those part of the traditional canon as being in this book. In the introduction and in his selection, Hirsch is far more inclusive. Maybe some readers only want to mention those usually included in such anthologies, but that says more about them than about this book.

I think what makes this volume so much more important, especially for those who like poetry but often feel they don't "read it right," is that these readings show many different ways into poetry. Yes, Hirsch is a poet himself and is very knowledgeable, but his approaches are very personal in nature. The ways he might approach a poem are ways we might also do so. Just because we have less knowledge in some areas doesn't mean the poem will speak to us any less. When we begin to trust our reading of poetry we can then look deeper, whether into the mechanics of poetry or the historical context of certain poems and poets. Our readings will be different from Hirsch's, but so what. We take from each poem what we can, and learning both method and specific information through this book will only enrich our future reading of poetry.

I am going to suggest another book that would make a great companion to this one. My intention is not to have it look like an either/or but as complementary volumes. The other book is The Difference is Spreading edited by Al Filreis and Anna Strong Safford. The similarity is that each book consists of a poet commenting on a specific poem. The contrast, and why I think they go so well together, is that while The Heart of American Poetry has one poet commenting on forty poems The Difference is Spreading has fifty different contemporary poets each commenting on a poem of their choosing. Between these books a reader can see many ways, both technical and personal, into a poem. I will also add that the Filreis/Safford book is based loosely on their wonderful ModPo MOOC.

Highly recommended for both those who read poetry often as well as those who like poetry but might not read it very often. Don't let Hirsch's knowledge of poetry intimidate you, appreciate what he offers as commentary and also look at how he approaches each poem and adapt that for your own level of knowledge.

Reviewed from a copy made available by the publisher via NetGalley.
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Some wonderful poems in this collection. I really enjoyed the authors writing style and the flow of each poem. Poems are always a great break from my typical reading and I genuinely liked this book.
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