Poetry Review: “After Long Silence” by Jane Hirshfield

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It has been awhile time since I reviewed a poem at ClimbingSky, something that I used to do quite often. Something I hope to be doing more of again in 2018.

As part of my year of reading women writers and writers of color, I am currently reading Jane Hirshfield’s book of poems entitled After.  I have just started it but already know I have found another poet to add to my list of poets I am going to want to spend much time with.

It happens that way to me. I am combing through a used bookstore and come upon a poet whose name I either vaguely recognize or a title that catches my eye. I open up the book at random and read a poem or two and just like that I have found a new direction.

It has seldom worked the other way around for me with new poets. I cannot think of a poet recommended to me that I came to love, at least not for a few decades. It is always a matter of happy happenstance.

After is Hirshfield’s sixth(?) book, published in 2006. This is the first poem in the book and the one that originally caught my ear and eye.


After Long Silence
 by Jane Hirshfield

Politeness fades,

A small anchovy gleam
leaving the upturned pot in the dish rack
after the moon has wandered out of the window.

One of the late freedoms, there in the dark.
The leftover soup put away as well.

Distinctions matter. Whether a goat’s
quiet face should be called noble
or indifferent. The difference between a right rigor and pride.

The untranslatable thought must be the most precise.

Yet words are not the end of thought, they are where it begins.


Listening with a pencil and my ear, these are the lines I marked:

The untranslatable thought must be the most precise.

Yet words are not the end of thought, they are where it begins.

There is much to like in this poem: the vowels of the second stanza, the line “the moon has wandered out of the window”, the balance of “right rigor and pride.”
But it is the last two lines that made me want to purchase the book and that remind me why I love poetry and why I work to write it myself.

The Twenty-Percent Threshold

“Westerns” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

I read a lot of books on Kindle. Library books and the ones I purchase as deals-of-the-day. One of the things Kindle provides you with as you read is a running percentage of how much of a book you have read.

I have been noticing that 20% appears to be my average abandoning point. That is, most books I stop reading around a fifth of the way through.

When I was younger, I felt an almost compulsive need to finish any book I started. Somewhere over the years, that part of my personality changed. Completed books have become the exception, not the rule.

I have mentioned here before at ClimbingSky that I routinely abandon books. Even books I am enjoying. I just get to a point and know I am done and ready to move on. It is one of the chief reasons I do not review books here.

This 20%-habit goes for television series as well. I will watch the start of a series with Sue and then one day I am just done and ready to move on to something else. The only difference is that I never feel compelled to watch television. I always feel compelled to read.

I have been thinking of late about this 20% threshold. And what in may mean about me as a reader, an intellect, a poet, a personality.

I have come to no conclusions. Maybe it is the sign of a restless spirit or someone with a lot of different interests. Maybe it is just what it is. I know only that it is real. And now, thanks to Kindle, I know it is quantifiable.





Reading In A New Direction

This year, in addition to “banning” certain words from my life as much as possible, I have also made a resolution to read only women writers and/or writers of color.

A father of daughters, living in a house of all women, I remain nonetheless what I am: a white, middle-aged male who grew up in a house of boys in Montana.

And since in the last year, I have come to believe that the madness in our society made manifest in the current and most unworthy inhabitant of the White House is directly related in someway to  white-male privilege, I have concluded that I need to be reading in a new direction.

Longtime followers of ClimbingSky (and before that MontanaWriter) know that I am not hardwired to want to review books. But I will at least try to mention here now and then what I am reading.

I am beginning with books I have on my shelves already or that are on my Kindle. So right now I am reading

  • The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
  • Poems by Amy Lowell
  • Nature’s Temples by Joan Maloof

Like my attempt to ban certain words from my life, this is an experiment I am trying for 2018. I will let you know how it goes.


Happy New Year

“A Pint” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

      by M.A.H. Hinton

out with the old
in with the new

forget what you think you know
begin anew

blessings on your labors
blessings on your rest

may 2018 be your best

Words I Am Banning from My Life

“Galway” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

Hoping to have a more healthy and productive 2018, and “inspired” by the alleged attempt to ban certain words at the CDC by the present administration, I am coming up with my own list of words that I am banning from this blog, or any of my social media platforms for the year 2018.

This includes not using them AND doing my best to figure out how to hide/delete any post, story, or tweet that uses them.

If we all did so, I believe we would have a more just, equitable, and sane world than we currently do.

  • Donald Trump
  • Fox News (and all employees thereof)
  • Paul Ryan
  • Mitch McConnell
  • Fake News
  • Roy Moore
  • Steve Bannon
  • NRA
  • 2nd Amendment
  • National Anthem
  • GOP
  • Hilary Clinton
  • New York Yankees

I’ll let you know how the experiment goes.


New Year

“Tools of the Trade” (photo by m.a.h. hinton)

The coldest holiday season in generations has descended upon the North Country. It is the kind of cold that get inside the bones of a house and touches everything.

2017 is coming to a close. We survived a year of Trump by the skin of our teeth. But as a country, as culture we are greatly diminished. It will take years to undo the damage already done. But in my heart I am afraid the damage is too consequential, too permanent.

Each year, I make a list of goals. Things I want to accomplish in the year ahead in: writing, reading, being healthy, this blog, etc.

I can honestly say the process is helpful. I look back on my 2016 goals and see that I accomplished or at least tried to accomplish many of the things I set out to do last year. But whether I achieved a goal or not is not the point. Having something to work toward and having a process and plan to accomplish it is.

2017 is almost in the books. 2018 is a blank page yet to be written. May it be a fruitful time for you and yours.