After I Lost My Peripheral Vision

It is the opening line of a poem from whence the new collection by Edward Hirsch draws its title. Written in 2018 by the Chicago-born poet, it reads as follows:

After I lost
my peripheral vision
I started getting sideswiped
by pedestrians cutting
in front of me
almost randomly
like memories
I couldn’t see coming
as I left the building
at twilight
or stepped gingerly
off the curb
or even just crossed
the wet pavement
to the stairs descending
into the subway station
and I apologized
to every one
of those strangers
jostling me
in a world that had grown
stranger by night.

Which makes the cover of the slim volume as pictured above perfect. The depiction of blurred indistinct margins of vision toward the violet end of the spectrum, while the center remains comparatively sharp in the yellow band of the spectral mnemonic, Roy G. Biv. Two poems follow Stranger by Night which also reference Hirsch’s collapsed periphery, “Sometimes I Stumble” published in the Paris Review and “A Baker Swept By” which appeared in the New Yorker.

Commenting in an interview last year in Guernica Magazine about the genesis of Stranger by Night, Hirsch explains: “I’d lost my peripheral vision—I have an eye disease—and now my walks at night are suddenly much stranger than they used to be. And so, when I’m taking a simple walk, like Grand Central to Times Square—which I do most nights—suddenly, at rush hour, people are bumping into me and I’m bumping into them because I don’t see them coming from the side. Originally I thought this was a poem about memory, and that’s how I wrote it. Then, when revising, I moved away from the ‘How Memory Works’ version.” By use of a clever open source tool called Juxtapose, the Guernica piece provides a slide bar enabling you to compare Stranger by Night with its earlier version which had the working title, How Memory Works.

Every poem, and every piece of published writing for that matter, goes through numerous revisions. And the choice of word we use for this process, “revision”, is instructive. No matter what we write, there is the original vision which enabled us to formulate our thoughts, followed by re-vision through which we come to see the content in a different light. And the poet, the writer, must always have the future reader in mind. As Hirsch explains in this Big Think piece, the experience of poetry, the meaning of poetry, is a kind of circuit that takes place between a poet, a poem, and a reader. “Meaning doesn’t exist or inhere in poems alone; readers bring their own experiences, their own wisdom, their own knowledge, their own insights to poems.”

Consider, then, how powerful it is when we provide an individual with better tools through which to fully utilize vision, re-vision, and residual vision.

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