The Heart of American Poetry

The Heart Of American Poetry

  • Book

An acclaimed poet and our greatest champion for poetry offers an inspiring and insightful new reading of the American tradition

We live in unsettled times. What is America and who are we as a people? How do we understand the dreams and betrayals that have shaped the American experience? For poet and critic Edward Hirsch, poetry opens up new ways of answering these questions, of reconnecting with one another and with what’s best in us.

In this landmark new book from Library of America, Hirsch offers deeply personal readings of forty essential American poems we thought we knew—from Anne Bradstreet’s “The Author to Her Book” and Phillis Wheatley’s “To S.M. a Young African Painter, on seeing his Works” to Garrett Hongo’s “Ancestral Graves, Kahuku” and Joy Harjo’s “Rabbit Is Up to Tricks”—exploring how these poems have sustained his own life and how they might uplift our diverse but divided nation.

“This is a personal book about American poetry,” writes Hirsch, “but I hope it is more than a personal selection. I have chosen forty poems from our extensive archive and songbook that have been meaningful to me, part of my affective life, my critical consideration, but I have also tried to be cognizant of the changing playbook in American poetry, which is not fixed but fluctuating, ever in flow, to pay attention to the wider consideration, the appreciable reach of our literature. This is a book of encounters and realizations.”



“Edward Hirsch is the most endearing of guides to the ecstasies of reading poetry.”
—Susan Sontag


“In a book of compelling, engaging prose, one of our country’s most distinguished poets connects us knowingly to his craft—helps us to appreciate the magic of language as it grows within us, and shapes our way of seeing and hearing others and our understanding of the world.”       

—Robert Coles

“If you are pretty sure you don’t like poetry, this is the book that is bound to change your mind. Hirsch demonstrates to one and all that the reading of poems is one of the supreme pleasures in life.”   

—Charles Simic

“The answer Hirsch gives to the question of how to read a poem is: Ecstatically.” 

—Boston Book Review


“Possibly there is no living guide to poetry more deft and caring than Edward Hirsch. . . . He’s not only an anthologist, but also the most insightful interpreter of why some poems come to mean so much to so many people: how they penetrate the crush of babble around us and change us forever. . . . This is a book to keep at bedside, to open when feeling low, to share with those who find poetry mysterious or difficult. It’s engaging, healing, and rich in every way.”  

—Naomi Shihab Nye

Poetry Matters. Two new books remind us why.