(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In this dramatic tour de force of voices, Gluck tempers humans’ narcissistic but inescapable attachments to their own natures with a passionate, white heat. The organization of the book is a woven design in patterns of three. There are three sets of poems interwoven with each other throughout the book. The relevance of each set of poems is not confined to those who have been or are married. In fact, the unexpected “stars” in the Odyssey poems are the “third wheels”: Telemachus, the empassioned, confused son, trying to find out who he is among the pyrotechnics of his parents obsessions and fantasies, and Circe, the “other woman,” who both creates the problem by detaining Ullysses and then solves it by aiding him in his return to Ithaca. The poem, “Circe’s Power,” begins with Circe’s laconic but sincere remark: “I never turned anyone into a pig./ Some people are pigs; I make them/ look like pigs.” As part of Gluck’s latest re-creation of poetic voice, such direct, plainspoken diction reaches deep into the heartbeat of human pain, or the fleeting sigh of human bliss.

Perhaps no other woman poet writing today is less inclined to volunteer a correlation between her life and the subject of her own work than Gluck. Yet, the woman as writer (and by corollary wife/lover/mother/possessor of cold feet) is clearly identified in the you/I couple of MEADOWLANDS (“The Wish,” p. 58), which suggests an innovative level of familiarity between the writer of the poems and the woman’s voice that has spoken from them throughout the years. This development, however, is not a sign of “easing up” in terms of aesthetic discipline. Absolutely nothing in MEADOWLANDS is superfluous, even the rare but authentic moments of humor. Few individuals could muster the relentless striving for perfection of expression that continues to inform the stately, absolute economy of Gluck’s voice and style.

Sources for Further Study

Bloomsbury Review. XVI, May, 1996, p. 17.

Boston Globe. April 28, 1996, p. 67.

Library Journal. CXXI, March 15, 1996, p. 74.

The Nation. CCLXII, April 29, 1996, p. 28.

The New York Times Book Review. CI, August 5, 1996, p. 6.

The New Yorker. LXXII, May 13, 1996, p. 93.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLIII, March 18, 1996, p. 66.

The Village Voice Literary Supplement. June 4, 1996, p. 28.

The Washington Post Book World. XXVI, July 28, 1996, p. 3.

Women’s Review of Books. XIV, November, 1996, p. 24.


(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Sometimes connections between poetry and popular culture occur in the most surprising and least likely contexts conceivable. For example, the plot of a 1996 episode of a Friday night television situation comedy involved two high school boys who hope for a stolen weekend of skiing but end up doing dishes for their high school principal in the family cabin he is about to sell. The principal’s watch is carelessly knocked into the sink and then inadvertently down the drain. It clearly distresses him, yet he keeps it to himself and says good-night for the evening. Later that evening, the boy who thinks he has nothing in common with the principal ends up reading his diary only to discover they are not so disparate: The man once “cut school” to have an intimate weekend with his wife, and often, on those weekends, the two of them “never made it to the slopes.” The boy also discovers that the watch had been a gift from his late wife. The next morning, in true situation comedy style, the boy emerges from the principal’s septic tank with the lost watch and a new bond of appreciation emerges.

In her essay, “Education of the Poet” (Proofs and Theories, 1994), Glück writes that from as early as her teenage years she has “experience(d), as a reader, two primary modes of poetic speech. One, to the reader, feels like confidence; one seems intercepted meditation. My preference, from the beginning, has been poetry that requests or craves a listener.” So what “grabs” or demands a reader in this day and age, when most of us would be lying through our teeth to say we spend at least as much time a week reading or thinking about the Greek myths as we do watching television? What has this statement and the preceding plot description have to do with Glück’s Meadowlands, which, according to the book jacket’s description, weaves “the dissolution of a contemporary marriage with Homer’s Odyssey”? Aren’t the rarified positions of the noble Penelope and Ulysses and their princely son, Telemachus, beyond such puerile and banal analogies? Although Glück’s style often renders the personal, the everyday as banal as a situation comedy plot it also renders the same banality glowing with an integrity that derives from being the only show in town—that of the human condition. Such tension creates Glück’s intriguing genius for reinventing voice as she delivers to her readers what she herself craves when reading: “the complement . . . of speaking in order to be heeded.”

The brilliance of this accomplishment lies in the success with which the voices of these mythic figures resemble our own, and conversely, the way in which the voices of the contemporary couple echo as if through an empty hall. It is they who are the ghosts in their own conversations, their own marriage, while Penelope, Telemachus, and Circe speak as if they are in the room directly addressing the reader, current with every nuance of contemporary life right up to the latest thirty seconds. The immediacy of these voices is startling in its effectiveness, not unlike the effect the principal’s diary has on the student who is sure he is an “old stick in the mud” with whom he has nothing in common. In this dramatic tour de force of voices, Glück tempers humans’ narcissistic but inescapable attachments to their own natures with a passionate, white heat. The paradox is that personal emotions remain ours, and are powerful enough, like Circe’s magic, to change us into swine. The poem, “Circe’s Power,” begins with Circe’s laconic but sincere remark: “I never turned anyone into a pig./ Some people are pigs; I make them/ look like pigs.” The direct, plainspoken diction of these lines is another distinguishable earmark of Glück’s career as a poet. In her ongoing re-creation of poetic voice, “big words” are not needed to reach deep into the heartbeat of human pain, or the fleeting sigh of human bliss.

Therefore, the seemingly absurd comparison of the reader to the boy on the television show perusing the diary is unexpected yet apt because the reader, like the boy, discovers the design of his own life in a place he least expected to find it. Seldom do we, as readers, and even as writers, expect such surprising and unwavering equivalences between ancient Greek literature and our own lives as Glück makes in her writing. This is true across the board of her body of work; in fact, the years have only deepened and refined this tendency, matured it, as they do good wine or the fine wood of a violin. Few other writers would state with such bald, precise absolutism that “as long as one is working the thing itself is wrong or unfinished: a failure” (Proofs and Theories) The assumptions behind such a statement are breathtaking, painfully startling, and ultimately illuminating to the serious reader of Glück’s poetry. In reading her work, to be authentically addressed by it, one has to be willing to respect her relentless drive to “use the mind to explore the resonances of . . . images, to separate the shallow from the...

(The entire section is 2075 words.)