Edward Hirsch was born to Kurt Hirsch and Irma Hirsch in a suburb of Chicago, Illinois, in 1950. He attended Grinnell College in the late 1960’s and won the Selden L. Whitcomb Poetry Prize for three consecutive years (1970-1972). He also won the Academy of American Poets First Place Award three consecutive years (1975-1977). Hirsch received his Ph.D. in folklore in 1978. In 1979, Hirsch was hired by the department of English at Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan. There he became friends with a young film studies assistant professor, Dennis Turner, whose death in 1984, the year Hirsch left Wayne State for the University of Houston, inspired one of Hirsch’s best-known elegies, “Fast Break,” collected two years later in his second book, Wild Gratitude.
Over the next decade of his residence in Houston, Hirsch’s third and fourth books of poems would appear (The Night Parade in 1989; Earthly Measures in 1994). As the opening and closing poems—“Memorandums” and “Proustian”—indicate, the third collection is a book of memories, moving largely between recollections of his family (there are poems about almost all the members of his immediate family) and his birth town of Chicago, bound by their mutual sturdiness amid tragedy. Earthly Measures celebrates art and artists but culminates in a celebration of ordinary people and life.
In the late 1990’s, Hirsch turned his attention largely to the essay as a way of explaining and celebrating the poetry he had come to love. He began writing a column for the influential magazine American Poetry Review, became a poetry editor of Robert Coles’s magazine Double Take, and began writing occasional reviews for magazines such as The New Yorker and The Nation. Much of this material would wind up in the two books of essays that appeared in 1999, Responsive Reading and How to Read a Poem, and Fall in Love with Poetry, along with a fifth book of poems, primarily dramatic monologues, titled On Love. From 2002 to 2006, he wrote a weekly column, “Poet’s Choice,” in The Washington Post Book World. He also published two more books of poetry, Lay Back the Darkness and Special Orders.