14 October 2007

Poetry Day Pick - Louise Glück

October 15th is Poetry Day. In honor of the day and the slow slide into winter, I choose to feature poet Louise Glück. She served as US Poet Laureate from 2003-2004, won a Pulitzer Prize, and has a boatload of other awards, but that’s not why I like her. Glück often bases her poetry on mythic figures and ideas, addressing topics like betrayal, mortality, love and loss, body and spirit. The language of her poems appears simple, almost basic, but it is an illusion. Her poetry contains complex emotions that make for repeated readings. Of all her collections, The Triumph of Achilles is one of my favorites for its exploration of myth and biblical ideas, although her recent collection, Averno runs a close second for the same reasons. In both I find myself attracted to the austere phrasing that lets the power of the poem sneak up on you.

The Triumph Of Achilles
Louise Glück

In the story of Patroclus
no one survives, not even Achilles
who was nearly a god.
Patroclus resembled him; they wore
the same armor.

Always in these friendships
one serves the other, one is less than the other:
the hierarchy
is always apparent, though the legends
cannot be trusted--
their source is the survivor,
the one who has been abandoned.

What were the Greek ships on fire
compared to this loss?

In his tent, Achilles
grieved with his whole being
and the gods saw
he was a man already dead, a victim
of the part that loved,
the part that was mortal.

From Triumph of Achilles by Louise Glück
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Pub. Date: September 1985
ISBN-13: 9780880010818

Glück is at her finest when tossing out a line that appears a monumental understatement, but upon reflection, hits you like a punch in the stomach.
"though the legends cannot be trusted-- their source is the survivor, the one who has been abandoned."

In Averno, Glück returns to mythological underpinnings to examine a woman’s descent into hell, her fears of death and concerns about the unshakeable bonds between mother and daughter. It is a lament for things not yet lost and dead, but headed that way. It is not a pleasant collection, stark and straightforward about the mortality of not only our bodies, but our relationships. Despite this, Glück manages to evoke a rather Zen-like enlightenment in her poem “Telescope”.

by Louise Glück

There is a moment after you move your eye away
when you forget where you are
because you've been living, it seems,
somewhere else, in the silence of the night sky.

You've been stopped being here in the world
You're in a different place
a place where human life has no meaning.

You're not a creature in a body.
You exist as the stars exist,
participating in their stillness, their immensity.

Then you're in the world again.
An night, on a cold hill,
taking the telescope apart.

You realize afterward
not that the image is false
but the relation is false.

You see again how far away
each thing is from every other thing.

from Averno by Louise Glück
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pub. Date: February 2006
ISBN-13: 9780374107420

Readers seem to have a love-hate relationship with Glück. Some can’t stand to read her; she can be unrelenting and unapologetic, unusual in a modern Poet Laureate. But Glück also has the ability to point out the exact thing you’d been thinking- but never had the courage to voice out loud.

You die when your spirit dies.
Otherwise you live.
You may not do a good job of it, but you go on-
something you have no choice about.

from Averno by Louise Glück
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Pub. Date: February 2006
ISBN-13: 9780374107420


Gabriele C. said...

Love the Achilles poem.

I have to look her up. Shame on me, but I've never heard about her before.

Constance said...

Glad to expand your horizons. :) I think you'll like her stuff. Probably easier to translate too!

Carla said...

I like the Achilles poem too. Thanks for this; I hadn't heard of her either.

Constance said...

You're welcome. :) Always striving to suck people deeper into poetry.