The first day of class was the first day of spring. We read Louise Glück's "The Wild Iris," a book of poems written in the language of flowers. On Zoom, unmuting ourselves, we read the first poem out loud:
Though the book was published in 1992, well before my students were born, and when I was only a small boy; it was speaking to us from beyond, from that timeless "elsewhere" that so many of Glück's poems so crisply capture. Her poems are alert to human feelings, both ugly and exalted, and to our will to survival in the face of a world that would cut us down.
Good poetry is not a place for easy consolations, for platitudes. Instead, poems can be a space where uncertainty and complexity commingle. When we needed her lessons -- each of us uncertain of the future, isolated, terrified -- Louise Glück has been a poet who could teach us that suffering, oblivion, even death would not be the end of us.
One of her poems, "The Red Poppy," asks us:
Oh my brothers and sisters,
were you like me once, long ago,
before you were human? Did you
to open once, who would never
open again? Because in truth
I am speaking now
the way you do. I speak
because I am shattered.
("The Red Poppy")
Readers and admirers of Louise Glück's poetry are celebrating her work this week with a collective sense of pride and pleasure to see her considerable contributions so deservedly recognized with the Nobel Prize in Literature
. The last American woman to win the honor was Toni Morrison in 1993.
But, in spite of the outpouring of joy on social media at this monumental public recognition of her artistry, Glück's poems themselves are not bombastic or public facing. Rather, they preserve intimacy, privacy and interiority in an age of constant broadcast, rapid news cycles and shameless self-promotion.
And in a time when we are so often reminded of ways language is used to manipulate and mislead, her work is a testament to the power of clarity and precision.
I cannot go on
restricting myself to images
because you think it is your right
to dispute my meaning:
I am prepared now to force
clarity upon you.
Glück has authored over
a dozen collections of verse, and she has received nearly every major prize for American poets, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the Bollingen Prize and the National Book Award. Additionally, she has served as United States Poet Laureate and has been awarded the National Humanities Medal. A dedicated teacher, she works with students at both Yale and Stanford.