Returning to find a voice
by Keith Taylor
From the October, 2015 issue
Louise Glueck is one of the few serious poets who have gained a following beyond the usual and circumscribed audience for contemporary poetry. That fact might appear even more surprising in light of her dark and demanding vision, which makes no concessions to any easy answers. Her best-known and Pulitzer-winning book, The Wild Iris, from 1993, seems to risk sentimentality at first read. After all, many of the poems in it are spoken by flowers or by God. Who could get away with that? Louise Glueck can. This remarkable book is also a very personal story, one that describes the dissolution of a marriage. The garden that holds the flowers is tense and difficult, but it's still a place where beautiful plants grow and return. The first poem tells us "whatever / returns from oblivion returns / to find a voice."
Glueck's voice is famously direct; uncluttered and unadorned, it creates a large and inclusive understanding. Her poems take the personal and raise it to the mythic. It is the mark of a Louise Glueck poem that you feel as if the poet has revealed something deeply personal, yet you can never be quite sure what has been revealed.
In her most recent book, Faithful and Virtuous Night--which won the National Book Award last year--Glueck has created an entirely new speaker. Slowly the voice reveals itself to be a painter living alone in rural England. In "The White Series," we learn that this painter at some point needs support from his family: "When my funds were gone, / I went to live for a while / in a small house on my brother's land / in the state of Montana." While there, he begins some new work--"Suffice to say the paintings were / immense and entirely white." But when the painter goes on to describe this new work in more detail, I get the sense that I have moved out of the character, that I am getting a
deep glimpse of something very close to the poet's heart:
Fields of white and glimpses, flashesIn those lines I sense something more than the fiction; it seems as if the poet is describing her own urgency and purpose.
of blue, the blue of the western sky,
or what I called to myself
watch-face blue. It spoke to me of another world.
I have led my people, it said,
into the wilderness
where they will be purified.
Louise Glueck reads her poems in the apse at UMMA on Oct. 27.
[Originally published in October, 2015.]
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