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PSALM 151

Jane Hirshfield lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, “in a small white house surrounded by fruit trees and old roses,” she told the Forward. But she was born in New York City and educated at Princeton University. An extraordinary editor, translator and essayist, Hirshfield is the author of five books of poetry, including, most recently, “Given Sugar, Given Salt” (Harper Collins, 2001).

As an undergraduate, Hirshfield developed a curiosity about Japanese poetry written by women, which has since led her outward, to the Japanese language. She has edited and translated two collections of poetry by women writers of the past, “Women in Praise of the Sacred” (HarperCollins, 1994) and “The Ink Dark Moon: Poems by Komachi and Shikibu, Women of the Ancient Japanese Court” (Vintage Classics, 1990). It has also led her inward — to Zen study and practice, and to a poetry with a delicate but firm and precise feel for imagery, both that which can be seen with the eye and that which can be found by looking within.

In “Translucence,” the dog who appears in the dream is in waking life the writer Pam Houston’s “large pink wolfhound.” She’s become a teasing figure, who wants to lead the speaker on a journey. The lovely conflation of two unlikely images, a dog and pink quartz, creates a magic that unlocks stone, “a vein of quartz” that moves “through its fissure on soft-padded feet.” Like the dreamer, the reader follows through a gate and discovers in the poem, not only the feeling of transformation, but our profound need for it.

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