Edward Hirsch's first collection of poems, "For the Sleepwalkers," was published in 1981 and went on to receive the Lavan Younger Poets Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award from New York University. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award. Since then, he has published several books of poems, including "Special Orders" (2008) and "Lay Back the Darkness" (2003). His latest book, "The Living Fire" (2010), his first retrospective collection, selects from each of his seven previous collections, published between 1981 and 2008.
He has been a professor of English at Wayne State University and the University of Houston. Hirsch is currently the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, as well as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
Question: What do you want your legacy to be?
Edward Hirsch: Well, the first thing you’d like to be remembered for are for your poems and I’ve spent my life in poetry and I’d like my poems to last and I’d like be remembered for my poetry. And in terms of my legacy, I think everything radiates from that. And so, first of all, you’d like to be remembered as a poet and a poet who tried to bring the deepest feeling to poetry. And I’d like to be remembered as a passionate poet who kept what John Keats calls the holiness of the heart’s affections.
Secondarily, I’d like to be remembered for my advocacy for poetry and my trying to defend poetry in a time when poetry was at risk. And there have always been great defenses of poetry and I’ve tried to write mine and I think all of my work and criticism is a defense of poetry to try and keep something alive in poetry.
And then, as a teacher of poetry, I’d like that to be - I think the teaching of poetry is part of that legacy of trying to carry on the tradition of poetry everywhere in the world and keeping it going.
And then lastly, I think this has spilled over into my work in trying to support the arts, not just poetry, but all of literature and all of the arts, through the Guggenheim Foundation. So, that we’re trying to keep something alive in the culture. We’re trying to keep something going that we don’t want to die that seems important. And so, I’d like to be remembered for that work too.
Recorded on February 4, 2010