Louise Glück 1943-
(Full name Louise Elizabeth Glück) American poet and essayist.
The following entry presents an overview of Glück's career through 2001. For further information on her life and works, see CLC, Volumes 7, 22, 44, and 81.
Glück is an award-winning poet whose verse utilizes brevity and spareness, often incorporating archetypes and mythical characters into contemporary situations. Her poetry frequently employs elements from ancient myths as a tool to comment on and inform modern dilemmas. Though the use of myth dominates her later poetry, Glück is a versatile poet who consistently challenges her own forms and the genre of poetry as well. Glück was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for her collection Wild Iris (1992).
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. As a teenager, Glück struggled with the eating disorder anorexia nervosa, an experience that would later be reflected in her work. Due to the disorder, Glück's formal education was interrupted in her last year of high school when she began a seven-year course of psychoanalysis. She enrolled at Sarah Lawrence College in 1962, and later attended Columbia University from 1963 to 1968. At Columbia, she participated in a two-year poetry workshop with Dr. Léonie Adams. Glück went on to study for four years with renowned poet Stanley Kunitz, who became a long-term mentor and who had a profound influence on her work. She has taught at several universities including Columbia University at New York, the University of Iowa, University of California at Berkeley, and Brandeis University. In addition to her Pulitzer Prize, Glück has won a number of awards, including the Academy of American Poets Prize in 1967, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in 1985 for The Triumph of Achilles (1985), and the 1995 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction for Proofs and Theories (1994).
Glück's first poetry collection, Firstborn, was published in 1968, when she was twenty-five years old. The poems, which stylistically build on the works of the first confessional poets, explore the role of women in society, at times expressing negativity and even hostility toward women and womanhood in general. The structure of the poems—lines with few stresses and blatant declarations—parallels this sense of anger. The House on Marshland (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 (1980), a collection that examines a variety of issues including anorexia and the desire to create poetry. This work continues to feature Glück's examination of common human themes through a deceptively simple language, but her 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 parallels her own individual experience with the Garden of Eden story from the Book of Genesis. The Triumph of Achilles, a collection of eight poetry sequences, reflects the more mature poetic sensibility that Glück developed in Descending Figure. She again employs classical myths and the Bible as thematic material, using them to provide the metaphorical basis of the poems rather than relying heavily on imagery to convey meaning. Achilles 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. The sparse verbiage of the collection combined with the sentence-like structure of her lines marks a stylistic break from her earlier works. In Ararat (1990), her first attempt at a book-length sequence, Glück addresses the death of her father and the implications that his death held for the other members of the family, including her mother and sister. These poems are set in Long Island, New York, and utilize a chant-like rhythm as they examine the subject of familial romance. The Pulitzer Prize-winning Wild Iris—a collection that was strongly influenced by poet Simone Weil—represents a turning point in Glück's career. With subtle references to the high modernists, Wild Iris boldly combines a dialogic poetic form with anthropomorphism. These poems, set among a lush garden, establish a range of individual voices for flowers, which alternate with the poet-gardener's voice and with the voice of a gardener-god. These elements combine to address the landscape of the poet-gardener's marriage and other issues related to her existence, using symbolism, multivocality, and dramatic personae to convey their themes. Proofs and Theories is a collection of essays that explores Glück's personal life, including her creative process and her writing methods. In addition, she also examines other poets including John Keats, John Milton, Wallace Stevens, and George Oppen. Glück returns to her focus on the mythological in Meadowlands (1996), where she rewrites the Odyssey myth by humanizing Odysseus and Penelope, paralleling their relationship with that of an ordinary contemporary couple. The poems appropriate archetypes in order to illuminate the collapse of a marriage. Using humor and irony, the collection proffers a grim view of romantic love's sustainability. With Vita Nova (1999), Glück constructs a mythic narrative about everlasting fidelity by rewriting the story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Written after Glück's years as a wife and mother, the poems seek to reinterpret the Orpheus myth and, at the same time, make sense of Glück's newfound sense of solitude. The poems in Vita Nova, often compared with those in Meadowlands, focus on a single speaker who vocalizes different perspectives and explores human faithlessness. The Seven Ages (2001) addresses themes such as memory, ideas of loss, and aging. The poems display a detached tone and dark humor that have become recurring elements in Glück's writing.
From the publication of Firstborn, Glück has been recognized as a significant poetic voice, though her earlier poems have 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. Critics such as Elizabeth Dodd have asserted that using “clever metrics” enables Glück to create sonnet-like poems and ballad-like stanzas and to mirror and comment on the themes in her work. Glück has drawn the attention of many feminist critics who have been interested in her treatment of gender roles and the identities and actions of the women in her poems. Some have criticized her negative portrayals of female experience while others have argued that Glück's work considers artistic expression and female sexuality to be opposing forces. Other critics, in contrast, have viewed her work as a direct and necessary feminist response to male-dominated culture. Glück's evolving style has also become 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, particularly, have been viewed as significant, not only for their interrelated poems, but for their departures from the poet's perceived style—The Wild Iris for employing the conceit of speaking flowers and Meadowlands for displaying ironic humor in place of the grim tone Glück typically used in other works.