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...
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