Becoming Poet: Edward Hirsch


We’re honored to have had the chance to chat with the amazing poet and critic Edward Hirsch, author of nine books of poetry and more than five books of craft (almost all of them ubiquitous in MFA classrooms), and recipient of numerous fellowships, including from MacArthur and the Guggenheim—here’s what he has to say about his journey of becoming poet.


What’s your relationship to rejection?

Edward Hirsch: We’re well-acquainted. I’d say that we’ve been in a fairly long relationship. We don’t get along very well, but I try not to take it personally.

Kayak magazine used old illustrations for their rejections, which were always funny. I remember one of a bare-knuckled boxer preparing to knock out his opponent. Underneath it said: “Sorry.” Another shows a boy lifting an axe over another boy. Underneath it said: “Sorry, but the editors of kayak feel that your submission is not quite what we need this season.”

Those were the best rejections, I’ve blocked out the worst.


When did you start calling yourself a poet and why?

EH: I’m not really sure. All through college I used to say that I wanted to be a poet. Somewhere along the way I changed that and starting telling people that I was a poet. I think it had to do with my discovery of poiesis—which means making. The poet is a maker and the poem a made thing. I started calling myself a poet in a fairly matter-of-fact way.


What was the journey of getting your first book published?

EH: That was a very long journey. I first put together a manuscript when I was twenty-three years old. I started sending it out to contests sometime in my mid-twenties. I kept revising and revising the book, trying to make it better. I kept working the craft and deepening the book.

For the Sleepwalkers was published when I was thirty-one. I felt that it was the best that I could do.


How do you climb out of a dry spell of writing?

EH: Reading. I try to find poems that inspire me and imitate their form and spirit. Sometimes that helps.


What’s part of your job as a poet that would surprise most people?

EH: The dailiness of it. You don’t just walk around waiting for inspiration. You walk around muttering to yourself, then you staple your ass to the chair for a few hours at a time, then you start walking around again muttering to yourself. I’ve spent so much time in fast food joints and coffee shops that it’s possible I’ve been taken for a homeless person.


What was the darkest moment for you as a poet?

EH: I had some dark moments in my late twenties when I didn’t think I would ever break through. It felt to me as if there were some invisible club that was trying to keep me out. I was furious and determined. I tried to put my rage to work in the service of my art.