Saturday, April 22, 2017

Louise Glück

“Writing is a kind of revenge against circumstance too: bad luck, loss, pain. If you make something out of it, then you’ve no longer been bested by these events.”

It’s the birthday of poet Louise Glück, born in New York City (1943). Her father was a Hungarian immigrant who helped invent the X-Acto knife. Even as a young girl, she wanted to be a poet. She had a tough adolescence — she didn’t fit in with her peers, and she struggled with anorexia. Her parents took her out of high school and put her into psychoanalysis. At first, she was afraid to go because she was worried that the doctor would “cure” her to such a degree that she would lose her creative drive. Instead, she said that psychoanalysis was “one of the great experiences of my life. It helps me to live and it taught me to think.”

She dropped out of Sarah Lawrence College after just six weeks. She said: “It wasn’t a confident dismissal of a ritual I didn’t need or had bohemian contempt for. I was, at eighteen, too advanced in neurosis to manage life outside my bedroom.” Instead, over the next few years, she took classes at Columbia’s School of General Studies, studying with the poets Léonie Adams and Stanley Kunitz.

She published her first book, Firstborn (1968). The critics loved it, and it won the Academy of American Poets Prize. The critical acclaim earned her job offers to teach at various institutions, but Glück was convinced that to be a real poet she shouldn’t teach — that it would compromise her creative drive. Instead she worked as a secretary, but even so, she struggled with writer’s block for years.

She agreed to attend a colloquium in Vermont, because one of her heroes, John Berryman, was going to be there and she wanted to meet him. As soon as she arrived, she fell in love with Vermont. Her hosts at Goddard College casually encouraged her to teach there, and to their surprise, she agreed. There wasn’t actually a job available, but the college moved things around and less than a week before classes started, she was offered a job and moved to Vermont. She said: “Teaching released me. It was one of the most dramatic transformative experiences of my life and entirely positive.” Writing poetry became easier than it had ever been before.

After a while, she had another period of writer’s block. For two years, she spent a lot of time gardening, obsessively reading flower catalogs and listening to Mozart’s Don Giovanni, but not writing at all. One day, she was walking around her garden when she had the thought that she could write a poem narrated by a flower. She did, and a couple of days later she wrote another, and eventually those poems became a book: The Wild Iris (1992). It won the Pulitzer Prize.

In 2003, she was named poet laureate. She said: “To my surprise I didn’t hesitate, even though I can’t say I was unambivalently delighted. I have very little taste for public forums [... but] I thought my life needed to be disturbed and surprised.”

Her collected poems were published in 2012, as Poems: 1962–2012. She said: “The thing that surprised me was how big the book was, because for most of my life, I’ve felt I wasn’t writing. Hitting my head against a wall, raging and raving to my friends because my mind is blank. Or dead. But the book was so large. It was a quite marvelous feeling — that my current sense of failure might not be so reliable.”

Her other books include Ararat (1990), Meadowlands (1997), Averno (2006), and most recently, Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014).
-Writer's Almanac