Charter Books will host a presentation and book signing by Edward Hirsch, author of The Heart of American Poetry, a collection of deeply personal readings of forty essential American poems from the past four centuries.

On Wednesday, May 11 at 6:00pm, Edward Hirsch will speak and read from the book, followed by a Q&A and book signing.

Among the forty American poems featured in the book is an encounter with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “The Jewish Cemetery at Newport” from 1854. This beloved and heavily anthologized poem was composed after Longfellow stumbled across the historic cemetery at the corner of Touro and Kay Streets here in Newport during a visit in the 1830s. In the new book, Hirsch explores this poem and many others, including Emma Lazarus’ rebuttal to Longfellow with 1871’s “In The Jewish Synagogue at Newport.”

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.”

Charter Books owner Steve Iwanski says, “Anyone with even the dimmest flicker of love for poetry should come to this event and read Ed Hirsch. This is a personal book, not a ‘Top 40 Greatest Poems,’ but a heartfelt catalogue of a life spent loving words. Many of my own favorites are included but I enjoyed Ed’s discursive examination of what makes them tick, and I discovered a half dozen new favorite poets that I’m ashamed I’d never read before. We’re very thankful that Ed wanted to come to Newport and talk poetry with us.”

While the event is free and open to all, Charter Books is requesting that attendees RSVP on their website so that they can plan accordingly.

Edward Hirsch is a celebrated poet and champion for poetry. He is the author of ten books of poems and six books of prose and has received numerous awards and fellowships, including a MacArthur Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the Rome Prize, a Pablo Neruda Presidential Medal of Honor, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Award for literature. He serves as president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and lives in Brooklyn.

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