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This review is taken from PN Review 256, Volume 47 Number 2, November - December 2020.

Cover of Ledger
Jennifer WongJane Hirshfield, Ledger (Bloodaxe) £10.99
Intelligent, complex and full of clarity, Jane Hirshfield’s latest collection Ledger is a call to one’s sense of justice and moral responsibility in the world we live in: a personal, ecological and social reckoning. One of the remarkable strengths of this book is to call into question our world-views, the way
we measure or weigh our dilemmas.

Marked by its conciseness and silences, Hirshfield’s poetry transports the reader from one place to another, while it opens up new vistas of understanding. Take, for example, what is asked of the reader in ‘Things Seem Strong’:

Things seem strong.
Houses, trees, trucks – a chair, even.
A table. A country.

You don’t expect one to break.
No, it takes a hammer to break one,
a war, a saw, an earthquake.

Without much warning, the speaker shifts her contemplation from sturdy furniture to the state of a country. As soon as our imagination of what a strong country is is evoked, the speaker takes away the stable ground beneath our feet, and questions how much – or how little – it takes for one to cause irreparable damage.

In her interview with the Paris Review, Hirshfield says: ‘From the periphery, you can see more of the whole. From the center, any view will be partial. A poem is not a frontal assault, it is the root tendrils of ivy making their way into the heart’s walls’ mortar.’ A Zen Buddhist believer and an accomplished translator of Japanese poetry, ...

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