Sunday, November 11, 2012
Verses Wielded Like a Razor
The most brutal and sorrow-filled book of American poetry published in the last 25 years, I’ve long felt, is Louise Glück’s “Ararat” (1990). It’s confessional and a bit wild, but intellectually formidable. It’s her “Blood on the Tracks.”
By Louise Glück
634 pages. Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Ecco. US$40.
A gifted dramatist could strip “Ararat” and the two excellent books that followed it, “The Wild Iris” (1992) and “Meadowlands” (1996), of their withering observations and nearly construct a play around them. You simply stand back and witness the carnage.
“You should take one of those chemicals,/maybe you’d write more” is a not-untypical put-down. So is: “Your back is my favorite part of you,/the part furthest away from your mouth.” So is: “I expected better of two creatures/who were given minds.”
Ms. Glück’s new and career-spanning “Poems 1962-2012” is a major event in this country’s literature, perhaps this year’s most major. It collects the entirety of this ruthless poet’s verse from her debut, “Firstborn” (1968), through “A Village Life” (2009), 11 books over four decades.
Put together, these compact volumes have a great novel’s cohesiveness and raking moral intensity. They display a supple and prosecutorial mind interrogating not merely her own life but also the sensual and political nature of the world that spins around it. Her poems bring with them perilously low barometric pressure.
Ms. Glück — her surname rhymes with click, not cluck — was born in New York City and grew up on Long Island. Her father helped invent the X-acto knife. This is a cosmically sublime detail; no other poet slices with such accuracy and deadly intent.
She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University, but took no degree. Ms. Glück, now 69, was United States poet laureate in 2003-4. She has won most of this country’s major poetry prizes. She sounds like no one else.