Nobel Laureate Louise Glück in The New Yorker 2020
On this Thursday, Louise Glück was announced as the winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Writing. Glück, a previous US Artist Laureate, has contributed poems to The New Yorker for over fifty years. Assessing her gathered poems, in 2012, Dan Chiasson set her “among the most moving poets of our period, even while remaining the most disabusing”; the Nobel board of trustees lauded “her unmistakable graceful voice that with austere excellence makes singular existence universal.”
Even though Glück’s first poems in the magazine have a place with a style she soon relinquished, they establish themes and attitudes that have helped through her vocation. “Late Snow” and “The Racer’s Widow” unsparingly interweave mortality with closeness; “Letter from Provence” lampoons the tourist’s (and perhaps the poet’s) propensity to romanticize and thus obscure the genuine. As Chiasson put it, “Just a writer susceptible to true euphoria makes craftsmanship out of chasing down its fake,” and, with her second and third books, Glück started to sharpen the “leanness of sentiment, intensity of address, and precision of speech” that would allow her access to the sublime.
Famously used folklore to investigate
Glück has long and famously used folklore to investigate—however, crucially, not to lift—insight. Early examples, such as “Aphrodite” and “Pietà,” physicalize the female archetypes of mother and sweetheart; in Glück’s tight telling, these glorified ladies are subject not exclusively to the story structures they support yet additionally to the effects of time. For Glück, quality negotiates between the transient past and the inevitable future, transience, and changelessness. In “Night Song,” a snapshot of passion banishes a dread of progress—”Tonight I’m not apprehensive/to feel the revolutions.” Sex is a keepsake more: “You’ll get what you need. You’ll get your blankness.”
The regularly illusory universe of Glück’s poems is, to a great extent, apathetic regarding human affairs; its sense of estrangement can be devastating yet, besides, sometimes simultaneously, the source of dry, sharp humor. In “Field Flowers,” from her Pulitzer Prize-winning assortment “The Wild Iris,” an all things considered a voiced bundle of buttercups poke at humans’, and perhaps especially artists,’ transcendent ambitions: “What are you saying? That you need/unceasing life? Are your thoughts really/as convincing as all that?” (verse takes another hit—”O/the soul! the soul! Is it enough/just to search internally?”) In the interim, the planter speaker of “Vespers” converse with God in a straightforward, businesslike fashion: “In your all-inclusive absence, you license me/use of earth, envisioning/some rate of profitability.” The speaker admits, “disappointment in my assignments” yet goes on to guarantee a privilege to that disappointment, as a maker. “All this/belongs to you: Glück writes, then again, I planted the seeds . . ., “and it was my heart broke by the curse.” Besides, the awesome can’t appreciate the human’s situation:
The plant specialist’s regret is repeated in “Gold Lily.” “All around,/my companions are coming up short, thinking/you don’t see,” the perishing blossom entreats. “How/would they be able to realize you see/unless you save us?” These are creations forsaken by their maker.
That poem’s penultimate stanza contains Glück’s
The New Yorker published, in 1999, Glück asserts, “in my life, I was attempting to be/a witness, not a theorist.” Her work’s revelations are established in observation; epic frameworks enlighten regularly monstrous truths. “I never transformed anybody into a pig,” begins “Circe’s Capacity.” “Some individuals are pigs; I make them/look like pigs.” That poem’s penultimate stanza contains Glück’s very own succinct description of specific skill: “each sorceress is/a pragmatist on a fundamental level; nobody/sees essence who can’t/face restriction.” In perceiving the boundaries of an individual perspective and syntax, she continually probes toward a more profound, more extensive resonance. “The world/was entire because/it shattered,” she writes, in “Formaggio.” “Yet in the profound fissures, smaller worlds showed up.” The world’s variety engenders the same in its inhabitants: “Tributaries/taking care of into an enormous stream: I had/numerous lives.”
“Prism,” a frequenting long poem that The New Yorker, published in 2003, shows how single life is refracted through memory, artistry, and love (or love). Adolescence and its completion give a focal subject to Glück, who here turns over and recombines certain elements, rehashing lines and motifs inside and across sections, to results on the double searching and profoundly controlled; the potentially unlimited domain of the creative mind runs facing the confines of the body, also of social desire. “The question was: the reason would we be able to live in the mind. /The answer was: the hindrance of the earth interceded.”
The “Tributaries” of the self reconfigure
The “Tributaries” of the self reconfigure as streets that meet at a focal wellspring in Glück’s 2009 assortment, “A Town Life.” Like the essayist’s mind, the book’s fanciful setting is possessed of its legends and customs, alongside its perimeters. Even though poems like “Early afternoon,” “Walk,” and “Marriage” are more direct and less fragmentary than a lot of Glück’s work, they remain conscious of what they can’t contain: as “Before the Storm” ends, “The night is very easy to read. /However, the world beyond the night remains a mystery.” Part of Glück’s mysterious bearing lies in her capacity to inspire that “world beyond” what the poem names, even as the poem, in its surface and strangeness, seems a world unto itself.
Glück won the 2014 Public Book Grant for “Unwavering and Virtuous Night
Glück won the 2014 Public Book Grant for “Unwavering and Virtuous Night,” which encompasses “the feel and mystery of youth, recalled from the most distant shore of mature age.” The title is a misheard description of Lord Arthur, whose chivalrous quests give a format to Glück’s quieted existential ones; there’s also an allusion to J. M. Barrie’s “Dwindle Container” when her persona envisions “the realm of death” in “An Undertaking.” Glück approaches the abyss with curiosity and fear, responsive to its messages yet refusing to submit: “Neigh, neigh, said my heart,/or perhaps nay, nay—it was difficult to know.”
The contending impulses to court and battle blankness have driven Glück’s poetics from the earliest starting point and keep on animating her ongoing work, including “Pre-winter,” from 2017: “Life, my sister said,/resembles a light passed now/from the body to the mind,” however “Our best expectation is that it’s glinting.” Even the most straightforward language—as a crossroads between body and mind, between what is shared and what is private, between definition and motion—serves as the site of this struggle, through which Glück has fashioned her matchless, almost supernatural art. “It took what there was:/the accessible material. Spirit/wasn’t sufficient,” she writes in “Nest.” Her poems offer a unique glimpse into the inexpressible yet understand that it resides inside—and isn’t anything without—the scaffolding of ordinary stuff.
“Presidents’ Day,” Glück’s latest poem in The New Yorker, was published last year. A new poem will show up in the October 19, 2020, issue.