Early evening yesterday, when my phone screen buzzed with the notification of this year’s winner for the Nobel Prizein Literature, Louise Glück (rhymes with stick), my first thought was “I know this name!” Although I couldn’t immediately recall from where, given my goldfish brain, a quick Google search refreshed my memory.
Thanks to a fellow poet-friend, I was introduced to my first Glück poem a few months ago. The Wild Iris.
“At the end of my suffering
there was a door.”
(The Wild Iris, 1992)
How can an opening line like that not make an impact, especially in the present circumstances that we find ourselves in?
I was late to the Glück party, but for close readers of her poetry, the Nobel Prize announcement doesn’t seem like much of a shocker. Her writing has been appreciated by many notable critics and readers alike, for her “unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal,” in the words of the Swedish Academy. She is considered one of the most prominent voices of contemporary poetry.
Louise Glück published her debut poetry collection, Firstborn, in 1968, when she was merely 25 years old. In the five decades since then, she has added 12 collections of poetry, two chapbooks, and many essays to her name. At present, she is a professor of English at Yale University.
Glück’s deeply unique and personal style of writing has won her numerous other awards, including a Pulitzer for The Wild Iris in 1993, Bollingen Prize for Poetry in 2001, and the National Book Award for Faithful and Virtuous Night in 2014, among others. She was also the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2003-2004.
Yet, the long list of accolades is not the only reason to turn to Glück’s poetry. In a time of despair, when hardly anything seems to make much sense, her words can provide enigmatic relief, and more importantly, a sense of acceptance. The more I read her poems, the more I understand how the written word can be wielded to make us more human: by forcing us to feel.
Although Glück has often been compared toEmily Dickinson for her preoccupation with death, grief and other dark themes, the poems I have read of hers so far remind me more of Mary Oliver. Much like Oliver’s writing, there is an undercurrent of honesty in Glück’s almost-confessional poems that make them relatable. The simple vocabulary and sharp yet striking images that she employs to explore everyday-truth, from love and loss to family ties, make her poems accessible even to those who do not usually read this form. Sitting down with her writing is like drowning in deep emotions and then, finding a rope of resilience to pull through.
My favourite from her so far is Midsummer, from the 2009 collection A Village Life. It is steeped in a quiet tension and nostalgia of all kinds: the pretentiousness of adolescence, forgotten friendships, the outdoors, and the pursuit of a meaningful life:
“…And the next day, we were kids again, sitting on the front steps in the
eating a peach. Just that, but it seemed an honor to have a mouth…”
If you are struggling to cope in the bleak times we all find ourselves in, pick up a copy of this American Nobel Prizewinner’s collection and lose, or perhaps, find yourself in her evocative, compassionate and epiphanic verses. You can thank me later.