For Pulitzer Prize-Winning Poet, Writing is Living

Make sure to develop strong bonds with your professors; you never know when they will go on to receive the Pulitzer Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Award.

Pomona College poet-in-residence Louise Glück read from her recently published work Faithful and Virtuous Night to students Feb. 9 in Pomona’s Crookshank Hall. She read a collection of poems, including “An Adventure,” “The Horse and Rider” and “Utopia”—poems flooded with emotional themes such as childhood, partnership and death.

The author of over a dozen collections of poetry, Glück came to Pomona College not only to read and collaborate with students, but also to visit former student Claudia Rankine, the Pomona College Henry G. Lee Professor of English. At Williams College, Glück served as a mentor to Rankine, the author of Citizen: An American Lyric and Nothing in Nature is Private.  

Students in an advanced poetry class at Pomona read and re-read Faithful and Virtuous Night in preparation for her arrival. Yet, according to attendees, nothing prepared them for the genius that is Glück. 

“Listening to her speak to our class was beautiful because of her openness and the lyrical quality of her words,” said Yenli Wong PO ’15, a member of the advanced poetry class.

It was Rankine who began the conversation by asking about the gender in the opening poem, “Parable.” Glück replied that she did not see gender as a factor; rather, she has wanted to write about the soul, an object she claims is without gender, her whole life. 

When Glück is not moving a pen along paper, she becomes anxious. 

“I hunger after the aliveness I have when I’m writing,” she said. 

This hunger is what provoked the creation of “The Past” along with the third section of “Summer Garden,” the first to be written for the collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night. 

“I love to teach not because I am generous and selfless; rather, I am avid and voracious,” Glück said.

David Connor PO ’15 related the feeling of her poem “The Past” to Wallace Stevens’ poem, “The Snowman.” While flattered, Glück believed her poem instead to be influenced by another poet, Peter Stevenson. Glück is a strong advocate for the romance between her poems and their readers.

“Wallace talks to himself and that’s all he needs. His poems make readers a voyeur, not a participant,” she said. 

Glück reads Jessica Fischer, Jay Halper, William Blake and Steven Foster. At fourteen she indulged in Keats and the Romantics. She had a brief affair with the work of Emily Dickinson, and then moved on to Elliot and Yates. 

She advised the class to “get saturated by what you read: Take everything you know and exhaust the reciprocal relationship.”

When Jordan Wilson PZ ’16 wanted to know what made her write outside of the books and the classroom, Glück recalled a trumpet player by a lake in Saranac, New York, the home to her childhood music camp. She remembered the artist’s children she considered her tribe and the relationship of young creators to nature. 

It is this template that she recreates today in gardens. Though too timid for untamed nature, Glück sees gardens as representations of rebirth—plants grow from dirt and flowers bloom in spring.

When asked by Justin Dixon PZ ’17 about the common reference to gardens in her poems, Glück replied, “[Poetry] billows and forms and seems sort of fizzy in a way.” According to Glück it isn’t until after a writer has seen what they’ve written that they even realize what they were trying to accomplish.

Glück entranced her audience of students, professors and locals. The crowd squeezed into the room’s perimeters, absorbing her words spoken from behind the podium. Julia Hass SC ’17 attended the reading after encouragement by her romantic literature professor, and found Glück’s work highly relatable and evocative of feelings from nostalgia to serenity. 

“At the reading I found myself tearing up at several points—whenever writing affects me like that I know I am encountering something really special,” she said.

Despite Glück’s wide range of work, there are still topics that she has yet to visit. For now she is a professor at both Yale University and Boston University, and encourages her students to write and “read widely and fall in love, because it’s not infidelity.” 

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