Louise Glück 1943–
American poet and essayist.
Initially associated with the confessional school of poetry, Glück (pronounced "Glick") has managed in each successive volume after her initial collection, Firstborn, to develop her handling of the lyric form. Consequently, her work has become representative of a contemporary "pure poetry" that is marked by precisely used common language, austere imagery, and a disengaged emotional tone. In this, Glück's work is more characteristic of the earlier poets H.D. and Emily Dickinson than confessional writers such as Sylvia Plath. Though Glück's poems are still grounded in a highly individualized personal response to everyday life, she is recognized for her unerring ability to place her individual experience in a larger human context through correlations with Greek mythology and the Bible. She composes clear, sharp, spare, rhythmic poetry that is noted for its ongoing experimentation with a formal structure and syntax.
Glück was born in New York City on April 22, 1943, to a Wellesley-educated mother and a father who was a first-generation American businessman of Hungarian descent. The firstborn daughter of this family, who died before Glück's birth, is the acknowledged source of the poet's preoccupation with the phenomenon of death, grieving, and loss that is a resonant theme in her work. As a teenager, Glück struggled with anorexia, another experience that was later reflected in her poetry. This condition had immediate practical consequences; Glück's formal education was interrupted in her last year of high school when she began a seven-year course of psychoanalysis. Glück has said that this process taught her to think, to analyze her own speech. Though she had from her early teenage years wanted to be a poet, the experience of psychoanalysis developed the requisite discipline for the task, so that a year later she enrolled in Dr. Leonie Adams's poetry workshop at Columbia University. After two years she went on to work with poet Stanley Kunitz, initiating a relationship that would be a major influence on her life as a poet. Four years later, in 1967, she received the Academy of American Poets Prize, and the next year Firstborn was published. Glück has received various awards and prizes throughout her career, including the Book Critics Circle Award and the Melville Cane Award for her 1985 volume, The Triumph of Achilles; the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for her sixth book of poems, The Wild Iris; and the 1995 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction for Proofs & Theories,
a collection of her essays. Since 1970 she has taught at numerous colleges and universities. Although Glück has indicated that she was at first hesitant about teaching, she ultimately embraced it as a means of surviving the extended silences she endures when it seems impossible to write poetry. She currently teaches at Williams College and lives in Vermont.
Even though Firstborn reflects the influence of the confessional tradition that was popular in the late 1960s, Glück's ability to manipulate the "I" to transcend strictly autobiographical topics led many critics to recognize her as a unique talent in contemporary poetry. The House on Marshland, published in 1975, saw Glück distancing herself from the confessional mode and developing a more distinct poetic voice. This voice achieves a wider range in Descending Figure, published in 1980. This collection continues to feature the examination of common human themes through a deceptively simple language, but the poet's use of extended poem sequences rather than individual lyrics allows her to sustain more complex emotional and intellectual engagement with her topics. For example, in Descending Figure's poem sequence "The Garden," Glück painstakingly locates her own individual experience within the Garden of Eden story from the Book of Genesis so that the poem becomes a lesson in human history, an exercise in how to be human. In her fourth major publication, The Triumph of Achilles, Glück further explored the need for love in a limited human world. In doing so, she again employed classical myths and the Bible, using them to provide the metaphorical basis of the poems rather than relying heavily on imagery to convey meaning. This book also demonstrates an expansion of Glück's poetic line; the resulting language is similar to common speech, but also reflects meticulous attention to such poetic concerns as rhythm, alliteration, repetition, off-rhyme, and lineation. In Ararat, her first attempt at a book-length sequence, she addressed the death of her father and the implications that death held for the other members of the family, including her mother and sister. The Wild Iris, Glück's sixth volume of poetry, is another book-length poem sequence. Here, the poet establishes a range of individual voices for flowers, which alternate with the poet-gardener's voice and with the voice of a gardener-god. All combine to address the landscape of the poet-gardner's marriage and other issues related to her existence. Meadowlands, which appeared in 1996, deals with the failure of a marriage, exhibiting an ironic humor that has only been hinted at in Glück's earlier work. The book continues to feature elements characteristic of her poetry, including a concise style and the use of rewritten classical and biblical mythologies. Its primary design makes use of the epic Greek poem the Odyssey as an analogy for a marriage that is disintegrating.
From the publication of Firstborn, Glück was recognized as a significant poetic voice, though these earlier poems have also been criticized for being derivative of the confessional poets Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton. It was not until the publication of The House on Marshland and subsequent volumes that her unique abilities with the lyric form were more widely acknowledged and praised. Frequently, commentators have lauded Glück's use of mythic material, especially the unique way in which she retraces the patterns of these archetypal stories through an individual consciousness. Likewise, her sparse writing style and emotionally removed tone have received considerable attention, with critic Helen Vendler describing Glück's poetic voice as "disembodied … transparently removed in space or time." Many, like Vendler, have found this voice to be striking and effective, but other observers have found her stark compositions to be less successful. In extreme cases, Glück's poetry has been dismissed as a type of stylistic affectation while others complain about the difficulty in comprehending the poems because, as Peter Stitt puts it, "the maker has excluded too much." Glück is sometimes faulted on technical grounds for favoring abstract metaphor over concrete image, explanation over suggestion. However, works such as The Wild Iris have been judged successful by some critics because of Glück's very rejection of the poetic convention of image.
Glück has drawn the attention of many feminist critics who are interested in her treatment of gender roles and the identities and actions of the women in her poems. Some criticize her negative portrayals of female experience while others argue that Glück's work considers artistic expression and female sexuality to be opposing forces. Others, in contrast, view her work as a direct and necessary feminist response to male-dominated culture. The poet's evolving style is also the subject of much critical commentary. While some observers have disapproved of Glück's trend toward longer and more involved poem sequences, most reviewers have praised her efforts in this direction, especially the book-length works Ararat, The Wild Iris, and Meadowlands. The latter two, especially, have been viewed as significant, not only for their interrelated poems, but for their departures from the poet's perceived style—The Wild Iris employing the conceit of speaking flowers and Meadowlands displaying ironic humor in place of the grim tone Glück has been known for. Though her work has been greeted with a variety of responses throughout her career, these views are perhaps testament to the innovation and variety that are manifested in her poetry. As her list of publications has grown, so too has the consensus among many critics that Glück is an important author in contemporary American poetry and one who continues to produce a wide range of quality work.
The House on Marshland 1975
* The Garden (chapbook) 1976
Descending Figure 1980
The Triumph of Achilles 1985
The Wild Iris 1992
Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry 1994
*This poem sequence was later published in Descending Figure.
(The entire section is 37 words.)
SOURCE: "Mixed Bag," in Partisan Review, Vol. XXXVI, No. 2, Spring, 1969, pp. 306-15.
[Boyers is an American educator and critic whose books include Selected Literary Essays of Robert Boyers (1977). In this review of Firstborn, he praises the craftsmanship of Glück's poetry while also voicing concerns about the melodrama and the lack of coherence that he detects in the volume.]
Louise Glück is an extraordinarily meticulous craftsman whose poems give promise of a really remarkable career. Working with materials associated with the confessional tradition, but speaking in a variety of voices, she has created a body of work that is painful and shocking, but without sufficient coherence to justify the relentless evocations of violence that reverberate in so many of her pages. In a poem like "Thanksgiving," images of corruption and decay are marshaled, but we do not know why they must have anything to do with the people in the poem…. [All] we can really explain is the poet's desire that her images and observations fit together. Here is the poem:
In every room, encircled by a name-
less Southern boy from Yale,
There was my younger sister singing a Fellini theme
And making phone calls
While the rest of us kept moving her discarded boots
Or sat and drank. Outside, in twenty-
nine degrees, a stray...
(The entire section is 947 words.)
SOURCE: "Louise Glück's The House on Marshland," in The American Poetry Review, Vol. 4, No. 3, July-August 1975, pp. 5-6.
[In the following review, Wooten compares Glück's first two books of poetry, asserting that in the second, The House on Marshland, the poet has achieved a wider control in her lyric treatment of the personal and mythical without sacrificing her unique poetic voice.]
For the admirers of Louise Glück's first book of poems (Firstborn, 1968), the second may initially seem less a treat. The House on Marshland lacks some of the verve of the first volume—the characteristic muscularity of language, the skillful use of ellipsis, the yoking of some hard and unlikely images—but it gains in other ways. Part of the charisma of the new volume is its calm surehandedness. Glück's ear never fails her; she manages to be conversational and lyrical at the same time, a considerable achievement when so much contemporary poetry is lamentably prosaic. Her range is personal and mythical, and the particular genius of the volume rests in its fusion of both approaches, rescuing the poems from either narrow self-glorification or pedantic myopia. Glück has a gift for getting the reader to imagine with her, drawing on the power of her audience to be amazed. She engages a "spectator" in a way that few other poets can.
The first lines of "Nativity Poem," for...
(The entire section is 2173 words.)
SOURCE: "The Poetry of Louise Gluck," in The New Republic, Vol. 178, No. 24, June 17, 1978, pp. 34-37.
[Vendler is an American educator and critic specializing in modern poets. Her books include studies of Wallace Stevens, John Keats, and William Butler Yeats, as well as Part of Nature, Part of Us: Modern American Poets (1981). Here, she focuses on Glück's second book, The House on Marshland, analyzing the poet's voice and lyric form. She contends that the separate lyrics in linked structures, as well as Glück's "transparently removed" narrative voice, provide a highly personal and exciting alternative to confessional poetry.]
"All Hallows" appeared on the first page of Louise Glück's The House on Marshland (1975). If there were echoes of Stevens and perhaps of Sexton, they were assimilated into a new voice. "All Hallows" is about bearing a child—or so it seems to me—but it is saturated by the poet's sense of her own birth. A mother has paid some unspeakable price into an invisible hand, has enabled the gold seeds, and the child victim is sold into bondage, enticed into the world. When a human couple takes on the unknown in the form of a baby, it is a time of "harvest or pestilence": their spring flowering is over, and, after the fashion of an archetypal Nativity, the baby is born in the cold. The "toothed moon," a savage Jack O'Lantern, rises in a sinister ascendancy, a...
(The entire section is 2846 words.)
SOURCE: "Purity and Impurity in Poetry," in The Georgia Review, Vol. XXXV, No. 1, Spring, 1981, pp. 182-89.
[Stitt is an American educator and critic. This excerpt from a review of Descending Figure classifies Glück's work as "pure poetry," which Stitt defines as verse that is more concerned with superficial qualities of structure and technique than with the intellectual or emotional core of poetic experience.]
Among many other things, there is pure poetry, there is impure poetry, and there is everything in between. The pure poem is exclusive, attends tea parties, breathes rarified air; the impure poem is democratic, tends to drink too much, revels in ribald stories. The impure poem is anxious to get everything in; the pure poem is concerned to leave most things out. The poetic age, the one in which we live, seems especially concerned to get everything in—every possible kind of poet and poetry, that is. Among the most maddening problems facing the critic of contemporary literature is the absence of reliable categories and definitions—where do all the poets belong, in what schools and classes? What order is to be found within the incredible mass of material that confronts us? Of course we aren't completely without touchstones—we can at least tell some of the pure poets from some of the impure poets, and both of these from some of those in between—at least some of the time…. Louise Gluck...
(The entire section is 1029 words.)
SOURCE: "Birth, Not Death, Is the Hard Loss," in Parnassus: Poetry in Review, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring-Summer, 1981, pp. 168-86.
[In the following review of Descending Figure, Bedient discusses themes and techniques that appear in all of Glück's work. The critic finds that Glück's emphasis on the sensuality of the form of the poem raises it to the level of high art, at the same time as her subjects stand as testament to the poet's inherent humanity.]
Louise Glück once ended a poem, "Open my room, trees. Child's come." This nostalgia for flourishing apart from others, this nature-huddling, the little head-pat of "Child's come"—yes, charming; but it composes the only charming moment in her volumes—of which now, as of the Fates, there are three.
Glück's importance lies more and more in her stringency, which is an earnest of her truthfulness and courage. Her poetry is rock-bottom hard and final yet marked by a sentience next to clairvoyance, and subtle surprise, and strong beauty. Into the midst of the usual fumbling wellmeant "delightful" efforts of the poetry of any age, poems like hers must come as a liberating rout of everything would-be, tepid, maundering, arbitrary.
What has grown upon her, insidiously and strengtheningly, is an "infamous calm." Any more of it, you think, and she will turn to stone; any less and hell will break...
(The entire section is 6766 words.)
SOURCE: "Assembling a Landscape: The Poetry of Louise Glück," in The Hollins Critic, Vol. XIX, No. 4, October, 1982, pp. 1-13.
[In this essay, Miklitsch charts the course of Glück's work over her first three volumes of poetry. By analyzing representative poems from each volume, the critic discusses the strengths and weaknesses he perceives in the poet's work. Miklitsch also declares that Descending Figure transcends the despair of the earlier two books by means of its technical sensibility.]
Louise Glück is familiar to readers of contemporary American poetry. As early as her debut appearance in Paul Carroll's Young American Poets (1968), her work intimated a poet of consequence. There was something about the obvious technical facility and self-lacerating tone that was immediately engaging, not to say arresting. Her first book, Firstborn, initially published in the United States by the New American Library in 1968, substantiated that impression. In a review of the book, Robert Hass wrote that the poems were "hard, artful, and full of pain," characteristics of the poetic épistémé in which they were written.
True to its "confessional" sources, the poetry of Firstborn is, as Hass hints, formally strict, musically dense, and thematically elliptical, even obscure. But two poems, "The Egg" and "The Wound," set forth Glück's obsessive subject, abortion,...
(The entire section is 5717 words.)
SOURCE: "The Dreamer and the Watcher," in Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry, The Ecco Press, 1994, pp. 99-106.
[In this essay, originally published in 1985, Glück elucidates the process through which a poem takes shape out of her ordinary experience. She also discusses particular tasks she has set herself concerning matters of form, structure, rhythm, and syntax.]
I have to say at once that I am uneasy with commentary. My insights on what I perceive to be the themes of this poem are already expressed: the poem embodies them. I can't add anything; what I can do is make the implicit explicit, which exactly reverses the poet's ambition. Perhaps the best alternative is to begin in circumstance.
In April of 1980, my house was destroyed by fire. A burned house: a reprimand to the collector. Gradually certain benefits became apparent. I felt grateful; the vivid sense of escape conferred on daily life an aura of blessedness. I felt lucky to wake up, lucky to make the beds, lucky to grind the coffee. There was also, after a period of devastating grief, a strange exhilaration. Having nothing, I was no longer hostage to possessions. For six weeks, my husband and son and I lived with friends; in May we moved into Plainfield Village, which seemed, after the isolation of the country road, miraculously varied, alive.
At that time, I hadn't written anything for about six...
(The entire section is 2821 words.)
SOURCE: "The Poetry of Louise Glück," in The Literary Review, Fairleigh Dickinson University, Vol. 31, No. 3, Spring, 1988, pp. 261-73.
[Raffel is an American poet, educator, critic, and translator. In this essay, he critiques Glück's poetry up to and including The Triumph of Achilles, which Raffel judges as not fulfilling the promise of the earlier work, and which he assesses as sometimes disconcertingly bad.]
Born in 1943, Louise Glück has published four volumes of poetry: Firstborn (1968), The House on Marshland (1975), Descending Figure (1980), and The Triumph of Achilles (1985). She has won prizes and awards; she is reasonably well-known. But the kind of acclaim I believe she deserves has not come to her. She is not yet quite the poet she is capable of being. In particular, her last book represents a severe falling off (though the Poetry Society of America gave it the 1985 Melville Cane Award and The National Book Critics Circle gave it its 1986 poetry prize: I do not pretend to infallibility). But the toughness, complexity and, at its best, quite incredible insight and hard, tested truth of her poetry, as well as its masterfully lyric sweep, make her, at the least, one of the most interesting poets working today. Her work needs to be much more fully and widely read, and thought about, and discussed.
Firstborn, obliquely dedicated to...
(The entire section is 5367 words.)
SOURCE: '"Free / of Blossom and Subterfuge': Louise Glück and the Language of Renunciation," in World, Self, Poem: Essays on Contemporary Poetry from the "Jubilation of Poets," edited by Leonard M. Trawick, Kent State University Press, 1990, pp. 120-29.
[Keller is an educator, a critic and the author of Re-Making It New: Contemporary American Poetry and the Modernist Tradition. In the following essay, she adopts a feminist critical perspective on the negative treatment of the female in Glück's first four books. The critic analyzes the relationship of the role of woman and that of poet and finds that, for the most part, Glück views the two as mutually exclusive.]
It is a commonplace of American feminist criticism that, historically, linkage of the words woman and poet has yielded a powerful contradiction in terms, inevitably confronted by women attempting verse. Because those aspiring to the male status of poet have been caught in a conflict with their own female identity, as Gilbert and Gubar observe, "at its most painful the history of women's poetry is a story of struggle against … self-loathing" (xxiii). The poetry of Louise Glück testifies that being a woman continues to some contemporaries to seem an impediment to being a poet, and that women writers today may still struggle against consequent self-loathing. At the same time, Glück's achievement suggests that these...
(The entire section is 3396 words.)
SOURCE: '"Man Is Altogether Desire'?," in Salmagundi, Nos. 90-91, Spring-Summer, 1991, pp. 212-30.
[In this review excerpt, Bedient discusses Glück's Ararat, finding the direct tone to be different than her previous volumes. Nonetheless, the critic finds the collection to be successful due to the precision and concentration of poems.]
Desire has become the most commonplace of topics, and not only because, like the weather, it is always with us, but because it doesn't know what to make of itself now that its own gaudy theological and philosophical trappings have been emptied of gas, like giant passenger balloons, and cut into rectangles and put on the wall as abstract art.
What poets (the house experts on the subject) may now regret is that walking naked is all that's left to them. The Plotinian There, the Fall, millions of flaming swords drawn from the things of mighty Cherubim, the light that never was on sea or land, progress, usury, supreme fictions—the whole panoply of grand and cranky themes has rusted.
Stripped-down desire—desire without transcendental dignities—is the burden of new books of poems by Louise Glück, Robert Hass, and Robert Pinsky. All three poets are in what looks like mid-career and all three are among the finest now writing in English. And partly because their new books are so marvellously accomplished, one wants to say that...
(The entire section is 2207 words.)
SOURCE: "The Unfinished Child: Contradictory Desire in Glück's Ararat," in New England Review and Bread Loaf Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 1, Fall, 1991, pp. 216-23.
[In the following review, Bond critiques Glück's fifth book, noting a shift in her use of mythology that illuminates the process through which myth achieves meaning; he concludes that these poems about personal and family history inform the notion of intimacy as crucial to the creative processes of mythology and of poetry.]
Louise Glück's most recent book, Ararat, marks a new and sustained intimacy in her work, the persona of her poems returning to a personally inscribed past, a family circle, so as to offer, more than her other collections, the sense of a narrative whole. But the narrative comes to us in fragments, often jagged and self-contradictory, having a dissonant lyric intensity unsuited to the more modulated pacing of longer narrative structures. As in her earlier books, Glück works in terse, introspective forms, tight spirals of language, as if writing against tremendous psychic resistance, longing for the scrutiny she shuns, gesturing toward the dark context of a larger story. It is in this resistance that Glück comes to demand the most of her language, and in so doing she demands of her readers as well. The result is a precise hesitancy, concealing as it reveals, work which dramatizes and challenges a desire for the...
(The entire section is 3377 words.)
SOURCE: "Poetry Chronicle: Amy Clampitt, Louise Glück, Mark Strand," in Raritan: A Quarterly Review, Vol. X, No. 3, Winter, 1991, pp. 125-33.
[In the following review excerpt, Berger argues the success of Glück's use of the book-length sequence of short lyric poems in Ararat, and finds this approach a good alternative to traditional narrative structures. In addition, Berger favorably assesses Glück's "common language" in the volume.]
Louise Glück's Ararat is a book-length sequence of short lyrics set in the year following the death of the poet's father. Book-length is a phrase I usually recoil from when attached to lyric sequences, since it often serves as a plea for excusing local weaknesses. But Ararat truly is a volume of linked poems, a volume operating through laws of accrual where no single poem dominates others or—more remarkably—needs to be salvaged by the work as a whole. One marks each individual poem as it comes along, records slight shifts of focus and form, even while registering a tonal similarity between poems striking enough to make them cognate, but sufficiently flexible to avoid monotone. This is simply to say that strong family resemblances between poems reinforce the guiding obsessiveness of family romance in Ararat. The occasion of her father's death forces Glück to rehearse the history of this plain, gray house on Long Island, "the sort of place...
(The entire section is 1179 words.)
SOURCE: "The Sexual Swamp: Female Erotics and the Masculine Art," in The Southern Review, Louisiana State University, Vol. 28, No. 2, April, 1992, pp. 333-52.
[In this excerpt, McMahon addresses the issue of the aesthetic differences between men and women. Glück's work, the critic finds, often depicts female sexuality and artistic expression to be at cross-purposes; erotic love has a lack of structure that is the opposite of artistic form. For this reason, the critic concludes, Glück seems to feel that "to be an artist… means to adopt the masculine imposition of boundary."]
For some time now feminist and Marxist and psychoanalytic critics have been exploring the language of patriarchy, trying to unearth a female aesthetic from phallogocentric digs. The lexicon is often funny ("phallocrat" is one of my favorites; another is "phallogocentric," Jacques Derrida's neologism linking phallus, logos, and center, all three of which deconstruction attempts to undo). More often the language is clunky (how many of us doze off at the first assault of Signifier and Signified, or grind our teeth at the torturous infinitive "to privilege"?), or simply and drily obscure. But whatever the failures of the language, the idea behind it is not quite dismissible. The question is an intriguing one: Is there an aesthetic difference between women and men? And does that mean it is located in the sexual body? Is a...
(The entire section is 3249 words.)
SOURCE: "Flower Power," in The New Republic, Vol. 208, No. 21, May 24, 1993, pp. 35-8.
[In this review of The Wild Iris, Vendler explains the poet's use of the metaphors of gardening and flowers to address issues of god, love, and ageing. The critic finds this approach to be reminiscent of previous poets and an interesting development for Glück. Vendler also insists that what has been viewed as the poet's mannered style is an essential poetic gesture.]
Louise Glück is a poet of strong and haunting presence. Her poems, published in a series of memorable books over the last twenty years, have achieved the unusual distinction of being neither "confessional" nor "intellectual" in the usual senses of those words, which are often thought to represent two camps in the life of poetry. For a long time, Glück refused both the autobiographical and the discursive, in favor of a presentation that some called mythical, some mystical.
The voice in the poems is entirely self-possessed, but it is not possessed by self in a journalistic way. It told tales, rather, of an archetypal man and woman in a garden, of Daphne and Apollo, of mysteriously significant animal visitations. Yet behind those stories there hovered a psychology of the author that lingered, half-seen, in the poems. Glück's language revived the possibilities of high assertion, assertion as from the Delphic tripod. The...
(The entire section is 2036 words.)
SOURCE: "Wild Plots," in Partisan Review, Vol. LXI, No. 2, Spring, 1994, pp. 350-55.
[Yenser is American poet, educator, and critic. Here, he acknowledges that the fifty-four poems in The Wild Iris generate a complete sequence; nevertheless, he asserts that the use of many voices is a problematic aspect of her work in the volume.]
Louise Glück's The Wild Iris characteristically contains no poem longer than thirty lines, and many of the poems gleam with the knifing ironies and the burnished paradoxes that have always marked her work, while some show a new visionary fire; but there is a strong sense in which this, her sixth volume, is really a single, rhizomic sequence, a complex structure that we can now see has been evolving at least since her third volume, Descending Figure, and which is embodied, in a less integrated form, in her fifth, Ararat. Glück wrote these fifty-four poems in ten weeks, a period that lends the book an organizational element: the poems in its first half are set mostly in the spring, while those in its second half occur in deepening summer. At the same time, Glück moves from morning to evening, since the lyrics in the poet's voice in the first half are mostly called "Matins," while the corresponding poems in the last half are "Vespers." Taken together, these poems from the poet's point of view constitute one of three kinds of poem in Wild Iris....
(The entire section is 1001 words.)
SOURCE: "Above an Abyss," in The Nation, New York, Vol. 262, No. 17, April 29, 1996, pp. 28-30.
[In this excerpt, Gordon views Glück's Meadowlands as a subverted Odyssey, telling the story of a voyage away from the ultimate union between Ulysses and Penelope, with the wife in Meadowlands being depicted as Penelope unweaving the fabric of the marriage.]
For Louise Glück in her newest book, divorce is the start awake after the sleep-walking of a bad relationship. As in some of her previous collections, she draws from a mythic source in Meadowlands, using central figures and themes from The Odyssey to illustrate the dissolution of her marriage. There is abundant proof in Meadowlands that Glück has resources to equal those of Odysseus, who says (in Homer's words) "I have a heart that is inured to suffering. … So let this new disaster come. It only makes one more."
There are many more in Glück's voyage. The uneasy marital landscape of the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Wild Iris has been torn up in Meadowlands by frustration and violence. In "Parable of the Hostages," Glück writes of the Greek soldiers that "the world had begun / calling them, an opera beginning with the war's / loud chords and ending with the floating aria of the sirens." Meadowlands follows much the same model, the earlier poems sketching apprehension and...
(The entire section is 1082 words.)
SOURCE: "The Woe That Is in Marriage," in The New Yorker, May 13, 1996, pp. 93-4.
[In this review of Meadowlands, Seshadri suggests that Glück's considerable lyric expertise and meticulous craft have been tempered by an earthiness and humor.]
Even before Louise Glück's new volume, Meadowlands was published, admirers could be heard describing it, somewhat incongruously, as a "funny" book, with the implication that this represented a significant aesthetic departure. There was something faintly comic in itself about this advance word, which had to do with the inexpert way that people try to generate excitement about a book of poetry. It's a fact that our most accomplished poets can be at least as entertaining as a good "Seinfeld" episode, yet when poetry lovers say as much their claims are often greeted with skepticism. And for readers who are addicted to Glück's ironic inflections, her stern disenchantments, and her capacity to locate the hiding places of a massive, stationary reality, this talk was unsettling for another reason as well. Did we really want a funny Louise Glück? Readers of poetry tend to crave more of the same: they don't like to be excessively surprised by poets whom they've appropriated to their own experience.
Meadowlands is surprising and in places very funny (when Glück read from it to a packed house in New York recently, she got lots...
(The entire section is 920 words.)
Baker, David. "Kinds of Knowing." The Kenyon Review 15, No. 1 (Winter 1993): 184-92.
In a review of several books of poetry, Baker recognizes the difficulty of presenting intellectual strategies in lyric poetry, declaring that Glück's refusal of image as the essence of poetry is responsible for the success of The Wild Iris.
Bonds, Diane S. "Entering Language in Louise Glück's The House on Marshland: A Feminist Reading." Contemporary Literature XXXI, No. 1 (Spring 1990): 58-75.
Seeks a feminist resolution to the perceived problem of Glück's immersion in a literary tradition that is primarily male, concluding that Glück's work establishes a much-needed confrontation with androcentric myth.
Cramer, Steven. "Four True Voices of Feeling." Poetry CLVII, No. 2 (November 1990): 101-06.
Recognizes in Ararat the elevation of the personal to a tragic level, with Glück using short lyrics to refer to a more inclusive narrative within herself. However, Cramer sees Glück's real risk-taking in her use of metaphor rather than image, of explanation over suggestion.
George, E. Laurie. "The 'harsher figure' of Descending Figure: Louise Glück's 'Dive into the Wreck'."...
(The entire section is 572 words.)