Louise Glück (pronounced as “Glick”), Nobel Prize Winner for Literature, 2020, is an acclaimed contemporary American Poet and essayist. The Swedish Academy recognized ‘her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal’. Along with her 12 books of poetry, she has published a few collections of essays on poetry. She has not only received many notable awards but also was appointed as the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2003 to 2004.
About Louise Glück
- Louise Glück was born on April 22, 1943, in New York City, and grew up on Long Island.
- She is the eldest of the two daughters of Daniel Glück, a businessman, and Beatrice Glück.
- As a teenager, Glück suffered from anorexia nervosa. Though she was cured of it later, it has taken a toll in her teenage and young adult years.
- She has married twice, unfortunately, to be ended in divorce.
- Glück is currently an adjunct professor and Rosencrantz Writer in Residence at Yale University.
- She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
- Glück is the author of 12 books of poetry and 3 books of essays.
- Though her first collection Firstborn (1968) was well-received, she became an established poet only with her second collection The House on Marshland in 1975.
- The poet Robert Hass has called her “one of the purest and most accomplished lyric poets now writing.”
- She has bagged many awards all a writer could dream of viz., the Pulitzer Prize, Bollingen Prizes, the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry, a Sara Teasdale Memorial Prize, the MIT Anniversary Medal, the Wallace Stevens Award, a National Humanities Medal, and a Gold Medal for Poetry from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
- Also, her book of essays Proofs and Theories(1994) was awarded the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction.
- ‘Circe’s Power’ written in 1996 and included in Meadowlands is based around the myth of Circe, a sorceress in Homer’s Odyssey. In the epic poem, she falls in love with Odysseus during his visit to her island, Aeaea. This poem is written from Circe’s perspective, a clever and thought-provoking way of exploring the story further.
- ‘The Wild Iris’ is the title poem in her 1992 collection with the same title. She delves into the themes of the human soul, rebirth/immortality, and the universality of all life forms on earth. Though the speaker is talking about a flower, there are obvious implications of humanity, and the human soul. The poem is a depiction of a mental or emotional rebirth rather than a physical one. Using the short lines, the speaker explores what it means to live, die, and reborn.
- ‘October’ is a six-part poem published as a part of her collection Averno. The poem begins in autumn that marks the dying of the season. In this poem, she uses mythology, persona, prosopopeia, and silence to explore past and present trauma in the postmodern world of emptiness. The poem allegorically refers to an implied story of suffering that cannot be remembered, forgotten, or fully represented within history.
- ‘The Drowned Children’ published in her collection “The Descending Figure” is a sad description of the drowned children. It fills the heart of the readers with great emotion. In the concluding lines of the poem, the poet captures the death of the child and the revival of its memory. The poem is written from the perspective of an outsider who observes the scene without intervening. This makes the poem sound calm and serene.
Major Themes of Louise Glück
Gluck has been writing poems as a response to the time we live through her written words. Her efficient way of incorporating disappointment, rejection, loss, and isolation into her poetry has made reviewers view her poetry as “bleak” or “dark.” Stephen Burt, while reviewing her collection Averno (2006), observed that she has rendered alienation and depression aesthetically. Gluck’s poems focus on trauma for death, loss, rejection, the failure of relationships, and attempts at healing and renewal are the subjects used predominantly. As the Swedish Academy observed, “In her poems, the self listens for what is left of its dreams and delusions, and nobody can be harder than she in confronting the illusions of the self.”
Louise Glück was born on April 22, 1943, in New York City. She is one of the two daughters of Daniel Glück and Beatrice Glück. She began to write poetry at an early age. As a teenager, Glück developed anorexia nervosa, which has taken a huge impact on her teen and young adult years. In one of her essays, she has described the illness as a result of an effort to assert her independence from her mother. At the same time, in her other writing, she has connected her illness to the death of an elder sister, which happened even before she was born. During the fall of her senior year at school, she has begun a psychoanalytic treatment that has lasted for the next seven years. During this time, she taught herself to overcome the illness and teaching her how to think.
Career and Relationships
Glück began her career as a secretary after leaving Columbia. In 1967, she married Charles Hertz, Jr., but the marriage ended in divorce. Her debut poetry collection publishes in 1968 received positive comments from the poets and critics. Later in 1971, she began to teach poetry at Goddard College in Vermont. The poems she has written during this time were published in her second collection of poetry. In 1977, she married John Dranow, with whom she had a son in 1973. Following a few successful collections of poetry collections, Glück joined as a senior lecturer in the English Department of Williams College in Massachusetts, in 1984.
In the 1990s, while she was at the peak of her literary success, she had to endure personal hardships for her marriage to John Dranow ended in divorce. In 2004, following her publication of “October” she was named the Rosenkranz Writer in Residence at Yale University. Since joining the faculty of Yale, Glück has continued to publish poetry consistently. By receiving the prestigious Nobel Literature Prize, she became the sixteenth female winner since 1901.
Writing Career and Critical Reception
Glück has started writing poetry from a very young age following inspiration from her parents. Still, she made her debut in Firstborn, in 1968. Though it received only positive critical attention, she experienced a writer’s block, for she has not written till 1971. She collected the poems written during her time at Goddard College in Vermont in her second book, The House on Marshland (1975). It was considered as her breakthrough work by many critics as a “discovery of a distinctive voice”. Glück’s third collection, Descending Figure was published in 1980. The book was well-received except for some criticism for its tone and subject matter. The poet Greg Kuzma criticized Glück of being a “child hater” for her widely anthologized poem in the collection, ‘The Drowned Children’.
Following the tragic fire accident that destroyed all her possessions of her house in Vermont, she began to write the poems that were collected in her award-winning work, The Triumph of Achilles published in 1985. Liz Rosenberg, the author, and critic, while writing to The New York Times, described the collection as “clearer, purer, and sharper.” In his writing to The Georgia Review, the critic, Peter Stitt considered her “among the important poets of our age”. The poem “Mock Orange”, from this collection is eulogized as a feminist anthem.
The loss of her father in 1984, motivated her to start a new collection of poems, titled Ararat (1990), referring to the mountain of the Genesis flood narrative. Critic Dwight Garner called it “the most brutal and sorrow-filled book of American poetry published in the last 25 years” in his 2012 review to The New York Times. It was followed by her most famous and celebrated collection The Wild Iris (1992). The poems in this collection feature garden flowers in conversation with a gardener and a deity. Publishers Weekly announced this work as an “important book” that exhibited “poetry of great beauty”. Also, the critic Elizabeth Lund called it “a milestone work”. The work received the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 sealing her status as a preeminent American poet.
Glück published her collection of essays called Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry, in 1994. She followed it with two more collections: Vita Nova (1999) and The Seven Ages (2001). Meanwhile, she published Meadowlands in 1996, which featured the nature of love and the deterioration of a marriage. She published a book-length poem entitled ‘October’ in 2004, in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. That same year, she was named the Rosenkranz Writer in Residence at Yale University. Since that time she is writing poetry consistently. Her books published during this period include Averno (2006), A Village Life (2009), and Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014). She has also published another collection of her essays, entitled ‘American Originality’ in 2017. Meanwhile, the collection of her half a century poems were published in 2012 entitled ‘Poems: 1962–2012’, marking it as “a literary event”.
Influence from other Poets
Glück’s early influence comes from her early learning of ancient legends, parables, and mythology. Literary Scholars and Critics have often compared Glück’s works to that of Robert Lowell, Rainer Maria Rilke, Ezra Pound, and Emily Dickinson. However, Glück herself has acknowledged the influence of Puerto Rican, William Carlos Williams, and George Oppen on her work. In addition, she has credited the influence of Léonie Adams and Stanley Kunitz.