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Louise Glück

Visiting Poet

Louise Glück

Louise Glück’s exquisitely controlled book-length lyric sequences dazzle and disturb. Each of her nine collections marks a striking departure from its predecessor, and this remarkable body of work has won her wide and resounding praise.

Robert Hass calls her “one of the purest and most accomplished lyric poets now writing,” Edward Hirsch praises her “oracular voice, fierce imagination, and unsparing vision,” and Robert Pinsky notes her “ruthless breathtaking originality.”

A Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Glück has received countless distinguished honors, including the Bollingen Poetry Prize and the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry.

As the poet Tony Hoagland writes, praising Glück’s intellectual and passionate intensity, “No one sings the song of intoxicated singularity of consciousness like her, or better gives voice to the most fundamental fractures of human nature.” In language is as deceptively simple as it is technically precise, Glück’s work describes the ironies of the human condition through the humble, jarringly austere voices of myth, of wind and witchgrass. Despite the simplicity of her syntax, her poems are renowned for their elegance and analytic depth, their hard questions, their harrowing examination of human life and growth. Glück challenges her readers and herself at every turn with spare, darkly poignant lines, and as critic Helen Vendler writes, her daring yet humble assertions reach the level of “spiritual prophecy—a tone that not many women have the courage to claim.”

Glück’s triumph amidst the ironic and bleak world she describes is the creative act; out of the depths comes a poem that illuminates the darkness it describes. Poetry, for her, is an insistent bloom against the black: as she writes in The Wild Iris, “from the center of my life came / a great fountain, deep blue / shadows on azure seawater.”

Louise Glück has taught at Brandeis, Harvard, and the University of California. Currently the series judge for the Yale Series of Younger Poets and Poet Laureate of the U.S.(2003-2005), she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and teaches at Williams College and Yale University.

Select Poems

Little soul, little perpetually undressed one,

do now as I bid you, climb

the shelf-like branches of the spruce tree;

wait at the top, attentive, like

a sentry or look-out. He will be home soon;

it behooves you to be

generous. You have not been completely

perfect either; with your troublesome body

you have done things you shouldn’t

discuss in poems. Therefore

call out to him over the open water, over the bright water

with your dark song, with your grasping,

unnatural song—passionate,

like Marie Callas. Who

wouldn’t want you? Whose most demonic appetite

could you possibly fail to answer? Soon

he will return from wherever he goes in the meantime,

suntanned from his time away, wanting

his grilled chicken. Ah, you must greet him,

you must shake the boughs of the tree

to get his attention,

but carefully, carefully, lest

his beautiful face be marred

by too many falling needles.

From MEADOWLANDS (The Ecco Press, 1996)

My mother wants to know

why, if I hate

family so much,

I went ahead and

had one. I don’t

answer my mother.

What I hated

was being a child,

having no choice about

what people I loved.

I don’t love my son

the way I meant to love him.

I thought I’d be

the lover of orchids who finds

red trillium growing

in the pine shade, and doesn’t

touch it, doesn’t need

to possess it. What I am

is the scientist,

who comes to that flower

with a magnifying glass

and doesn’t leave, though

the sun burns a brown

circle of grass around

the flower. Which is

more or less the way

my mother loved me.

I must learn

to forgive my mother,

now that I am helpless

to spare my son.

From ARARAT (The Ecco Press, 1990)


comes into the world unwelcome

calling disorder, disorder—

If you hate me so much

don’t bother to give me

a name: do you need

one more slur

in your language, another

way to blame

one tribe for everything—

as we both know,

if you worship

one god, you only need

one enemy—

I’m not the enemy.

Only a ruse to ignore

what you see happening

right here in this bed,

a little paradigm

of failure. One of your precious flowers

dies here almost every day

and you can’t rest until

you attack the cause, meaning

whatever is left, whatever

happens to be sturdier

than your personal passion—

It was not meant

to last forever in the real world.

But why admit that, when you can go on

doing what you always do,

mourning and laying blame,

always the two together.

I don’t need your praise

to survive. I was here first,

before you were here, before

you ever planted a garden.

And I’ll be here when only the sun and moon

are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

I will constitute the field.

From THE WILD IRIS (The Ecco Press, 1992)

About Louise

Poetry Center Reading Dates: April 2004