Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Louise Glück, Poems 1962-2012


Louise Glück, Poems 1962-2012
Farrar Strauss Giroux
New York, NY
© Copyright 2012 by Louise Glück
Hardbound, $40, 634 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

When you consider that the national median age is about 37 years of age in the United States it makes Louise in Glück’s newest book of poetry, a 50 year compendium of her work even more remarkable than the work itself.  More than half of the United States population has not been on this earth as long as she has been writing her long, honored career as one of America’s great poets.

The book covers her career from First Born (1968) to A Village Life (2009). The importance of poetry in Glück’s life, perhaps best summed up in “The Wish” which appears in Meadowlands (1996):

Remember that time you made the wish?

                        I make a lot of wishes.

The time I lied to you
about the butterfly. I always wondered
what you wished for.

            What do you think I wished?

I don’t know. That I’d come back
that we’d somehow be together in the end.

            I wished for what I always wish for.
            I wished for another poem.

And so it is…10 books in this volume….nearly 400 poems.  The only thing better would be to be present when Glück reads them all.  The brilliance of the work is not only in the
sheer number of poems, but in the poetry’s ability to climb inside the reader to put the reader as one with Glück.  Every device is used to achieve this symbiotic relationship with readers, There are familiar stories from ancient Greece, medieval Italy and others. There is autobiographical material as she looks back at her life or why and how she writes poems and ultimately how we discover ourselves through our own poetry.  She tells us how we can be a poet without hitting us overhead or making us feel as if she is didactic.
When Glück writes about lost love anyone can feel the resulting emptiness in both the heart and bed:


My heart was a stone wall
you broke through anyway.

My heart was an island garden
about to be trampled by you.

You didn’t want my heart;
you were on your way to my body.

None of it was my fault.
You were everything to me,
not just beauty and money.
When we made love
the cat went to another bedroom.

Then you forgot me.

Not for no reason
did the stones
tremble around the walled garden:

there’s nothing there now
except the wildness people call nature,
the chaos that takes over.

You took me to a place
where I could see the evil in my character
and left me there.

The abandoned cat
wails in the empty bedchamber.

How many of us, male/female, heterosexual/homosexual have felt these emotions at one time or another: “the heart as a garden” is love as flowers, or if you prefer, the flowering of love.  And who has not thought, the heck with love, this is just lust, revealed in the couplet “You didn’t want my heart;/you were on your way to my body.”

And what could be worse than lost love and lust (“evil in my character”) than the imagery
of “The abandoned cat/wails in the empty bedchamber.”

Each of us has had the wail cat or the howling dog in our life.  Glück has grabbed the animal by the tail, swung it around until love/lust smacks the wall and we are left with
that hollow feeling and for some depression at having let ourselves enter what we think
is the love room only to find it is an empty illusion with no furniture or warmth.

Glück’s ability to turn her personal experience into ours is at the heart of her wonderful poetic powers.

These powers extend to other areas relating to her life and introspection of experience. In the poem of the flower in the family we know most commonly as Morning Glory, Ipomoea she writes:
What was my crime in another life,
as in this life my crime
is sorrow, that I am not to be
permitted to ascend ever again,
never in any sense
permitted to repeat my life,
wound in the hawthorn, all
earthy beauty my punishment
as it is yours –
Source of my suffering, why
have your drawn from me
these flowers like the sky, except
to mark me as a part
of my master: I am
his cloak’s color, my flesh giveth
form to his glory.

Yes, Louise Glück, Poems 1962-2012 everyone should own.  By everyone I mean readers, fiction and non-fiction writers, memoirists and most of all poets.  It is ne to keep on the shelf and reread many times.  

Zvi A. Sesling
Reviewer for Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene
Author, King of the Jungle and  Across Stones of Bad Dreams
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7

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