5 Questions with Edward Hirsch, Author of Gabriel: A Poem

gabrielToday we are honored to welcome the poet Edward Hirsch to City Lights Bookstore. He’ll be reading from his new work, Gabriel: A Poem, published by Knopf.

Event: Wednesday, November 4, 7:00PM at City Lights Bookstore, 261 Columbus Ave., San Francisco, CA 94133.

About the Book: Longlisted for the 2014 National Book Award. Never has there been a book of poems quite like Gabriel, in which a short life, a bewildering death, and the unanswerable sorrow of a father come together in such a sustained elegy. This unabashed sequence speaks directly from Hirsch’s heart to our own, without sentimentality. From its opening lines—”The funeral director opened the coffin / And there he was alone / From the waist up”—Hirsch’s account is poignantly direct and open to the strange vicissitudes and tricks of grief. In propulsive three-line stanzas, he tells the story of how a once unstoppable child, who suffered from various developmental disorders, turned into an irreverent young adult, funny, rebellious, impulsive. Hirsch mixes his tale of Gabriel with the stories of other poets through the centuries who have also lost children, and expresses his feelings through theirs. His landmark poem enters the broad stream of human grief and raises in us the strange hope, even consolation, that we find in the writer’s act of witnessing and transformation. It will be read and reread.

“Part tribute; part existential howl; part intellectual investigation of our most primal emotions; part novella-like, buoyant, unsentimental romp through the life of Hirsch’s ‘wild spirit, beloved son…’”–The New York Times Book Review

About the Author: Edward Hirsch is the acclaimed author of numerous books of poetry including: For the Sleepwalkers, Wild Gratitude, The Night Parade, Earthly Measures, On Love, Lay Back the Darkness, Special Orders, and The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems. He is also the author of five prose books, including A Poet’s Glossary, Poet’s Choice, How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry, Theodore Roethke’s Selected Poems, The Making Of A Sonnet: A Norton Anthology. He also edits the series “The Writer’s World” for Trinity University Press. He has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a MacArthur Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award, a Pablo Neruda Presidential Medal of Honor, the Prix de Rome, and an Academy of Arts and Letters Award. In 2008, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. He is currently president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation.

edward hirsch

City Lights: If you’ve been to City Lights before, what’s your memory of the visit?

Edward Hirsh: I remember coming to City Lights on my first visit to California in the late Sixties. I was in college, writing my fledgling poems, and I lingered for hours in the poetry section, which overwhelmed me. I found some writers in translation I’d never heard of, and walked out with an armload of poets from Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, who later had a terrific influence on me. It made me think of City Lights not as a Beat haven, but as an outpost of Eastern European intellectuals.

CL: If your book had a soundtrack, what would it be?

EH: My book-length elegy for my son is very sad, and I think the right soundtrack for Gabriel: A Poem is Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder.

CL: What’s the first book you actually finished reading?

EH: My mother hooked me on Wilfred McCormick’s sports books. I identified with the hero, Bronc Burnett, and The Three-Two Pitch had me in its thrall. After that, I stayed up all night reading Bases Loaded and Grand Slam Homer. Nothing absorbed me so much until I read Crime and Punishment in 7th grade.

CL: If you weren’t a writer, what might you do?

EH: I think I might become a teacher of poetry, or a Foundation President. Oh wait, those are my jobs…

CL: Name a few things you’d require if stranded on a desert island for an undefined period of time (and, yes, no wifi). 

EH: I’d like to have my lover with me. She’s not only great company, but she’s also extremely good at figuring things out and fixing them. Someone on the island ought to be practical. That would also give me a little more time for reading, which is why I’d like to have with me the poetry section of City Lights.


Join us Wednesday for a reading by Edward Hirsch, most likely in that same Poetry Room that he first visited in the 60’s.

For more about Edward, go to his official site. Stay updated on weekly events at City Lights Bookstore by going to our events calendar and signing up for our weekly newsletter.

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