On Love

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

ON LOVE: POEMS is Edward Hirsch’s fifth full-length collection. Its first section is composed of loosely formal poems, which cover a range of topics, from a pioneer woman’s desolation to the poet’s experience of himself as a child. In many of these, speaker and poet are not easily distinguishable. Some are reminiscent poems, especially the strongly evocative “The Burning of the Midnight Lamp” which brings back the idealism and disorder of the late 1960’s.

The second section (occupying most of the book) is comprised of dramatic monologues on the subject of love. Such varied personages as Gertrude Stein, Charles Baudelaire, Guilliame Appollinaire, Paul Valery, and Tristan Tzara are all invited to hold forth. The varied perspectives and the differing styles of the speakers make for an intriguing conversation.

These poems are carefully crafted. For his monologues Hirsch uses forms that stress repetition of words or lines; he favors the pantoum and the sestina among others. For the poets and writers included in the groups, the style and content of the poems cleverly echoes what readers think of as the primary characteristics of the speakers. A wonderfully divergent array of concepts and experiences of love is represented.

Dramatic monologues always provide a sense of detachment, as though the poet’s rhetorical distancing of self from subject has a corresponding effect on the reader. Although the poems do not seem to have the emotional range and power of Hirsch’s previous collection, EARTHLY MEASURES (1994), they have considerable intellectual interest and depth. This is a collection for those readers who take a spoonful or two of philosophy with their poetry.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XCIV, May 1, 1998, p. 1495.

Houston Chronicle. September 27, 1998, p. Z21.

Library Journal. CXXIII, June 15, 1998, p. 82.

The New York Review of Books. XLV, July 16, 1998, p. 41.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, May 25, 1998, p. 84.

The Yale Review. LXXXVI, July, 1998, p. 160.