poetry / Uncategorized

Poems in Conversation

Conversation Piece by Juan Munoz (1999)
I’ve been devouring Jane Hirshfield’s Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry. Her chapter on translation is insightful and the poems she’s selected as examples are moving, especially this one:

Lying alone,

my black hair tangled,


I long for the one

who touched it first.

– Izumi Shikibu, translated by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani

Hirshfield writes, “Japanese critics have long pointed out that Shikibu’s tangled black hair is one of very few references to the details of physical life in all Japanese poetry.” Reading Shikibu’s poem made me think of Jack Gilbert’s poem “Married,” one of many poems in The Great Fires that made me realize I couldn’t live without poetry:


I came back from the funeral and crawled

around the apartment, crying hard,

searching for my wife’s hair.

For two months got them from the drain,

from the vacuum cleaner, under the refrigerator,

and off the clothes in the closet.

But after other Japanese women came,

there was no way to be sure which where

hers, and I stopped. A year later,

repotting Michiko’s avocado, I find

a long black hair tangled in the dirt.

Just writing these two poems next to each other in my journal was so powerful–they’re  in conversation with each other. Though hundreds of years apart, these poems, when paired together, illustrate what Jane Hirshfield writes of  in a later chapter: “the interpenetration of the natural and human realms.”

Have you witnessed a conversation like this before?

8 thoughts on “Poems in Conversation

  1. I’m not sure if I have witnessed a poem quite like this before, but I got the feeling Jane Kenyon and Donald Hall have experienced/written conversations. How could poet-couples not?

  2. I haven’t specifically looked for this kind of poetry conversation lately and this is such a good nudge to do so. I would expect that, because poets are also readers, these conversations are out there, waiting for us to make the connection. We just have to be mindful enough to recognize them.

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