“The Poet”

Let her have a chair, her shadeless lamp, the table.” — Jane Hirshfield, “The Poet”

The place in which we work — an art studio, a home office, a spare bedroom, or the corner booth at the local diner — is essential to our creative lives.

I often hear would-be writers and artists complain that they can’t practice their craft because they don’t have a studio or a home office. But if we really want to write or paint, sculpt or sew, we’ll find a way to make a space for it. My friend Debbie, for instance, makes no apologies for keeping her sewing machine set up in the living room while she’s working on her projects. And nobody thinks she’s messing up the place. Her visitors are inspired by the cool things she’s creating.

An evocative portrait of an unknown poet’s writing room, this sweet poem, below, always tugs at my heart. It’s a universal image — the writing desk with a single lamp — but Jane Hirshfield makes it intensely personal. She also reminds us that the support of family and loved ones is just as essential as having a room of one’s own. –– CL

The Poet
By Jane Hirshfield

She is working now, in a room
not unlike this one,
the one where I write, or you read.
Her table is covered with paper.
The light of the lamp would be
tempered by a shade, where the bulb’s
single harshness might dissolve,
but it is not, she has taken it off.
Her poems? I will never know them,
though they are the ones I most need.
Even the alphabet she writes in
I cannot decipher. Her chair —
Let us imagine whether it is leather
or canvas, vinyl or wicker. Let her
have a chair, her shadeless lamp,
the table. Let one or two she loves
be in the next room. Let the door
be closed, the sleeping ones healthy.
Let her have time, and silence,
enough paper to make mistakes and go on.

—Reprinted from The Lives of the Heart, by Jane Hirshfield; HarperPerennial; 1997

This post is part of a new weekly series of poetry appreciation. To read more, please click on “Poems to inspire” in the CATEGORIES column at right. As always, I welcome your recommendations, too.

–Top photo “My Desk Chair” (copyrighted) by Cindy La Ferle–

13 thoughts on ““The Poet”

  1. lovely.
    can’t help but be reminded of a time when my husband was in bosnia, my babies were >1 to 4 years old, asleep, and i stayed up all night-several nights- on a pop-up office table in the middle of my living room, making a scrapbook for him for xmas. it was the only time i could work! thanks for the memory. ps: he loved the scrapbook, a reminder that he was loved during a difficult time for him!

  2. “If we really want to create, we’ll find a way to make a space for it.” So true, the muse always finds a way to the page. Lately I’ve been having a little cabin fever, so since my daughter commutes to college, today I went in with her and am working from campus for a change of scenery. Where I go, I write!

  3. Great idea, Joanne! When my son was in grade school, sometimes I’d work on assignments at the local diner, just to get out of the house. (I’d get distracted at home, and would do laundry when I should have been meeting deadlines.) I loved the diner — I made friends with the owner and staff, and had a favorite booth. Very cozy. I’d always order breakfast or lunch and a pot of tea, working alone for a couple hours.

  4. I can sew or do busy work where and whenever.
    But I can’t seem to read or write when distracted by kids or tv etc. I am making a point to leave and find a space instead of getting frustrated. I always think just around the corner will be a stretch of quiet but it never seems to happen. Life happens, and we have to live it. I often think of artists who were reclusive or completely unable to function in their families or communities and while I joke that I’d love to give this a try… of course I won’t .

  5. Deb, I hear you. If you have a retreat center nearby, you might ask your husband or a family friend if they would fill in for you for a day or two while you slip away for a writing/spiritual retreat. We have a Jesuit center nearby, and I often used it for that purpose when my son was small. Really helped. I know you have a MUCH bigger family, and that does make it harder for now. Still, your beautiful blog shows me that you do find time for your creative work — kudos for that!

  6. This made me smile Cindy. I have a beautiful office– that I almost NEVER work in. So I agree with you, finding the space that works for you if you really want to work is what it’s about.

    Hope your week is going good.

  7. This post brought tears to my eyes, I don’t know why. But I love the depth of feeling and the certainty of creation. Appreciated your lead-in, particularly the sentence about your friend with the sewing machine. It’s true that homes are for living, not show.

    I love my office, a smallish bedroom with a convertible sofa for overflow guests. The window looks out across our front yard so I can see the weather and hummingbirds and the (blankety-blank) deer when I look away from my screen. I feel peaceful here, which frees my mind.

    Lovely post, thanks.

  8. Hi Cindy, I tried to send this via your ‘contact’ page but the e-mail wouldn’t send (gremlins?) so I’m adding it as a comment here.

    One of the best things about blogging is making new friends. I’ve enjoyed your posts so much, and the interchange between us.

    I was tickled to see in your comment on my Driftwood winery post that you’ll be coming to Texas sometime. Hope you can spend some time in the Hill Country. If you can, stop a couple of days with us and I’ll show you some of our area. I don’t know your timing but this spring-to-early summer will be magnificent with wildflowers because of the wonderful rains this fall/winter.


  9. what a great poem….and yes, I have my space to create…thank god…. and would surely shrink up and blow away by a small gust of wind, if I didn’t.

    so you’re in royal oak ? we used to live in sterling heights and bought our first house in pleasant ridge back in 1985….oh the memories…..and wow, I love that area !!!

  10. Thank you Cindy for encouraging all of us to read poetry. I picked up two Mary Oliver collections today at the library. Our cold Michigan weather is a perfect time to enjoy a new author, with a kitty (or two or three) on the sofa, along with a cup of hot tea!Life is good!

  11. This is a lovely gem of a poem, Cindy. When I first returned to school I had three young children at home. I worked at the kitchen table, in the TV room, or in the middle of the house on the living room couch. I did some of the best work I’ve ever done in a small house full of people. I will say that I most like to work near a window. I crave natural light. I now have the luxury of space, and I still gravitate to the room with the best natural light.

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