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 keeps you up at night?
Edward Hirsch: You have a lot of worries. I think there are the things that keep me up aside from personal things which can always get you and keep you up in terms of your personal life. Are you doing your best? Is this the best work you can do? You’re shadowed by your own dream, especially as you get older, of trying to create something that will last in poetry. And so, you're working on its behalf.
Now, sometimes I’m awake at night brooding about a particular poem. Sometimes I’m awake with something less noble in terms of what happened in the day or in the days. One of the gratifying things for me about this is I’ve always written about insomnia and insomnia has been one of my subjects from the time I was in my 20’s because I've never been a very restful sleeper. And I like the metaphor of insomnia in poetry. That is, someone who’s awake in the middle of the night is a soul consciousness when everyone else is asleep and that creates a feeling of solitude in poetry that I very much like. So, sometimes when I’m awake - well, when I was younger I would just write right then, but now I just remember the feeling and think I can make something out of this, out of this sense of isolation or loneliness or desolation that you get at 4:00 a.m.
Recorded on February 4, 2010