Louise Glück, Remembered by Writers

Louise Glück, Remembered by Writers

The ambition to create is indistinguishable from the fear, verging sometimes on conviction, that you can never do so. Glück’s genius as a poet was reflected in her keen understanding that the craft returns us all to childhood, helpless and desperate for mastery. Her equally remarkable generosity as a teacher meant that she could never be less than honest with students about the reality of this process. A writer’s life is dignified “by yearning,” she believed, “not made serene by sensations of achievement.” Write anything you want, just make sure it’s not dead, she told us, knowing that we would most certainly write things that were dead—but that it was up to us where we went from there. —Jiayang Fan

Though I’m not entirely sure where I first read Louise Glück—I believe it was her poem “Mock Orange,” in the “Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets,” in which she’s pictured, defiant, wearing a headband—I know for certain where I first came to love her work, which was when I found a copy of her début book, “Firstborn.” Though she eventually came to be less appreciative of this early poetry, for me it was a window into what only deepens in her later work—that is, family, loss, and myth. Later still, artistic-but-not-poet friends of mine sang the praises of the stark language in Glück’s books “Ararat” and “The Wild Iris”; I came to that work newly hearing the rich emotion they had heard in its ornate plainness. I still had my father then, not for long enough, and Glück’s books were waiting for me once I lost him, nineteen years ago—her poem “Vespers” I especially saw as a useful field guide to grief. “You permit me / use of earth,” Glück writes, ending, “I am responsible / for these vines.” I would include it in “The Art of Losing,” a book of elegies that I edited.

I didn’t know then that “Vespers” had first appeared in The New Yorker, nor could I have guessed that I would get the chance to edit, which is to say, include, her poems in the magazine. The poems she sent arrived typed up and via snail mail; she didn’t care for e-mail, or any number of modern things, but that was only part of the charm. Her poems were indeed missives from another world, and we were always eager to have them in hand. The day she won the Nobel Prize, nonplussed about the honor—“I was unprepared,” she said—we had recently taken her poem “Song,” which ran in the magazine a few days later. It was the culmination of more than fifty years of appearing in The New Yorker’s pages. While we mourn her dying, and seemingly so suddenly, her work, like the vines in “Vespers,” remains renewed and renewing. As she says in “Song”: “And I say then I’m glad I dream / the fire is still alive.” —Kevin Young

During my freshman year, Louise taught me to revise. It was perhaps the hardest lesson to learn in a year of hard lessons in and out of the classroom. After my first submission, I wept upon reading, in her distinctive half-print, half-cursive scrawl, “hopelessly conventional” on my poem. At last, I thought, I have reached my limits as a writer; I am mediocre and must learn to bear it. Later, Louise and I laughed about this whirlpool of teen-age feeling. We shared a tendency toward melodrama, and an awareness of this tendency, and thus a suspicion of it, and a weary amusement when confronted yet again with the inability to excise it. (It was also from her that I learned how to laugh at habitual faults without tolerating them.)

Sometimes she would circle a line and name it the only “alive” thing in a whole poem. Sometimes she would say, “There’s something here, but it’s not on the page yet.” I think her excitement about the possibility of a poem that was alive in every particular helped me keep trying. I remember the trying, which was excruciating and slow, because writing and revising are often excruciating and slow, as alchemical transformation. I remember sitting on my extra-long twin bed in my dorm room, typing and—this is how I remember it—all at once understanding how to reimagine, not simply reword.

In her approach to my work, and to her own—in book after book, an effort at reinvention within the boundaries that must be resisted even as they are laid out, unavoidably, by the self—she showed me the kind of dedication that writing requires: a fidelity to the making of the best thing that one can make.

I realized as I was writing this that, in teaching me to revise, Louise also taught me to suffer the loss of language. Though it’s frightening because words are so hard-won (from the world, from the self), much must be discarded to truly create. Writing demands a ruthless love. I am a less fearful rewriter because of her, but I don’t know how I will bear the loss of her, even with all the language she’s left behind. —Elisa Gonzalez

Of course she would die on Friday the 13th in October. It rivals being the daughter of one of the men who created the X-Acto knife. We fear profaning the absence she left behind, and so we are all dumbly quoting her, intuiting that only her poetry can rise to the occasion of her death. The truth is that any kind of writing is hard—something is so rarely preferable to nothing. Professor Glück, instead of pretending to forget this, distilled it down, and to read her work is to stand unprotected against the difficulty not just of writing but of bearing the knowledge that is worth being written. The words in her poems are like divining rods wiggling above an icy stream. You can only hold them for so long. When I was in school and she was briefly my professor, her office sat at the very top of the English building. You had to climb four flights of stairs, and then her door was unmarked at the end of a long hall. Most of us were terrified to meet with her, even though she was unfailingly kind. What I remember is a small round table; you’d sit across from her and she’d pore over your fanned-out pages with a stubby pencil in hand. My poems rarely got her going, but there’s one, now, that still feels charged with the dark quality of her attention. When I read it, I can feel her eyes staring back at me. —Katy Waldman

Louise Glück once said to me that she thought American poets were extremely cautious in their opinions of one another socially, but promiscuous privately. She thought this was a formula that should be reversed. We were on the telephone, discussing her essay “American Narcissism,” which had recently appeared in The Threepenny Review. Louise had just begun to write again, after a two-and-a-half-year hiatus, so she was understandably happy. This meant that she would be able to make poems in the new life she was constructing for herself in Cambridge, Massachusetts, after living for many years in Vermont. I had already known that long silences were a painful, inexplicable part of her writing life.

A few weeks later, when I drove up the dead-end street where Louise lived, she was waiting at the foot of her front steps, wearing all black and carrying a small purse over her shoulder. Her hair was freshly washed. We were going out to dinner, but she wanted first to show me her apartment and garden, which I had never seen, and I took this as a sign that the seeds of friendship were being planted. Louise lived on the second floor of a triple-decker, and her little book-lined study was in an alcove at the front, in the treetops. The apartment was freshly painted white and scarcely furnished. On the mantle, a collection of Japanese netsuke was displayed. Her bedroom was at the back, overlooking the garden, and the linens on the bed were white, like much of the apartment. At the foot of the bed were two stuffed animals, anteaters or armadillos, which Louise told me were especially beloved because they could be microwaved and used as heating pads.

In the back yard, she had planted a large horseshoe-shaped garden, and many of its contents had come from her old garden in Vermont. There were pale-pink tea roses, dark-maroon peonies, and a small, mesh-covered lettuce plot. She told me there would soon be Casablanca lilies blooming, remembering I had written a poem about them. Then we drove to Inman Square, where Louise had reserved her usual table at a neighborhood restaurant. To start, we each drank a glass of California chardonnay, and Louise intermittently splashed seltzer in hers. For dinner, she ordered a bowl of mussels, with extra broth, garlic, and parsley, then an arugula salad, without pears, walnuts, or blue cheese; I ordered a sirloin steak with dandelion salad, and when our meals arrived we shared between us a second glass of chardonnay.

Louise told me that writing her most recent book, “The Seven Ages,” had been like “flying,” and she recounted the story of a friend, a classicist from Williamstown, who’d had a dream in which Louise appeared. Louise, her friend, and her friend’s husband were on the rooftop of a high building, and Louise told them they must all jump, because if they did they would not be hurt. So they jumped, and all of them experienced nirvana. The last poem in Louise’s book, entitled “Fable,” reconfigures this dream as Louise and a lover:

Then I looked down and saw
the world I was entering, that would be my home.
And I turned to my companion, and I said Where are we?
And he replied Nirvana.
And I said again But the light will give us no peace.

We talked about solitude, and Louise admitted that three days alone were too much. As our conversation grew intimate, she sat sideways in her chair, folding her slender leg up on it like a bird or a teen-ager. A sensualist, she wiped the salad dressing and juices from her plates with her index finger and unself-consciously licked it.

I told Louise I thought her new long poem “October,” which had recently appeared in The New Yorker, was magnificent, and she was pleased. It is a lyric sequence in six parts, and she explained how the first two were written first but the third, whose final lines I love, was written last:

Come to me, said the world. I was standing
in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal—
I can finally say
long ago: it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty

the healer, the teacher—

death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me,
my beloved life.

“The rest was stitched together like scraps from a quilt,” she told me, adding that it was conceived, in part, as a response to her recovery from whiplash. I said I believed the body’s impulse was toward healing and that I’d learned this watching my own body recover from a bicycling accident in which I was thrown a great distance and lay unconscious in a hospital bed for many hours. But Louise argued instead that the body’s impulse was toward collapse and decay.

We talked about the need to transcend Eros in one’s work and discussed when this occurs in a career. We talked about contemporary tastes in American poetry and agreed that the Zeitgeist was shifting but what the future held was unknown. When I showed her two different jacket designs for my new collection “Middle Earth,” after holding each close to her face in the dim light, she said she favored the more austere version. Then she excused herself and went to wash her hands.

Awaiting her return, I thought about the pristine whiteness of Louise’s apartment. In her bathroom, the white tub, white toilet, white pedestal sink, white tiles, white floor, white cabinets, and white trash bin were brightly lit and offset by a large bevel-edged oval mirror with shiny chrome brackets. I imagined Louise lying in that white tub, like a figure in a Bonnard painting, surveying her body, floating in dream or thought or both. No truth would escape her there. Her home reminded me of Japanese teahouses I’d visited in the foothills around Kyoto, where there is a high value placed on austerity and rustic simplicity. Her poems could be said to be influenced by this aesthetic, in which beauty is always imperfect, impermanent, or incomplete, and in which only three simple realities are acknowledged: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. This Japanese aesthetic brings about within us a serene melancholy or spiritual longing, as Louise’s poems sometimes do for me—with their simple vocabulary, dramatic juxtapositions, subtle pacing, and sentiments of desolation.

When Louise returned to the table, she asked about my love life, and I answered truthfully. Louise always listened carefully and reflected a moment before replying. She said she thought a writer had to be tough to survive. She said she tried to teach her students to be ambitious. She said she is always listening for the solitary voice in lament.

Louise called her mother every day to “check in.” Her mother was ninety-five, and that morning, when Louise had reported she’d been to the orthodontist, her mother had replied, “That’s marvellous, darling.” The television was loud in the background, and her mother had plainly misunderstood. She thought Louise had said she’d been to the “orchid-eater.” Louise was delighted and wanted to tell me because I was from the “lush South, where you might really have such things as orchid-eaters.”

Once, at a public reading, I heard Louise say that in her Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, “The Wild Iris,” the figure of God, when he speaks, sounds remarkably like her mother, though she’d never told her mother this. When I told Louise how my mother had French expressions she frequently used when I was a boy—like “mon derrière” (“my ass”) and “minute, papillon” (“slow down, hold your horses”)—Louise said her parents had little phrases, too, in Japanese and French, that they used to call the family to meals, etc. She hated them.

After dinner, in the car driving home, Louise and I talked about writing during periods of happiness and love—which she believed was possible. Louise described a time long before, when she lived in Vermont and felt profound happiness in her marriage and was also able to write. I told her I believed love was our highest vocation and that I hoped I wouldn’t die without experiencing it. At her front door, we embraced. The next morning, she was flying to Washington, where there would be a gathering of young poets whom Louise would introduce.

Source link

Recommended For You

About the Author: Tony Ramos

Article Content Writer We write content articles for all businesses. We produce content that can include blog posts,website articles, landing pages, social media posts, and more. Reach out for more information to canyoncrestguide@gmail.com, "Best to You" Tony.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Home Privacy Policy Terms Of Use Anti Spam Policy Contact Us Affiliate Disclosure Amazon Affiliate Disclaimer DMCA Earnings Disclaimer