How did you become a writer?
I began writing in high school out of a kind of emotional desperation. I was overwhelmed by feelings I didn’t understand. Writing helped me get a grip on myself, it helped me gain some distance and control. I wouldn’t call what I was doing writing poetry, exactly, because I was just emoting, not really making anything. Later, in college, I fell in love with poetry and began trying to craft it. I became addicted to making poems, or trying to make them. That addiction turned out to be lifelong.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
The English Metaphysical poets were my first love. I came to them through the moderns, especially Eliot, their great champion. I loved the way that Donne and Herbert shaped poems, their verbal wit and intellectual mode. Then I fell in love with the romantic poets, who brought so much feeling into the lyric. I moved from the great moderns to the Middle Generation, who created poetry on a more intimate, human scale, which I still find moving.
When and where do you write?
I’ve always liked working in coffee shops and diners. But I also work at home, of course, and sometimes at my office, after hours. All through my thirties I often worked through the night in my study at home. Now I like early mornings.
What are you working on now?
Last year I published a book-length elegy for my son Gabriel. Now I’m trying to write poems in the aftermath of a great grief.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
The very term fills me with a kind of superstitious dread. Every writer has dry spells. Sometimes the cisterns empty and need to be refilled. In the meantime, one continues to work, to hope and trust.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Read, read, read. There has never been a great writer who was not also a great reader. In fact, most writers are readers who have spilled over. We respond to what we read and find ourselves, our own voices, in the process.
Edward Hirsch, a MacArthur Fellow, has published nine books of poems, including The Living Fire: New and Selected Poems (2010), which brings together thirty-five years of work, and Gabriel: A Poem (2014), a book-length elegy that The New Yorker called “a masterpiece of sorrow.” He has also written five prose books, among them A Poet’s Glossary (2014), a complete compendium of poetic terms, and How to Read a Poem and Fall in Love with Poetry (1999), a national bestseller.