Woe and Wisdom, Musings from the Pen of Louise Glück

On Monday, one of America’s most beloved poets, Louise Glück, performed a poetry reading at Claremont McKenna College’s Marian Miner Cook Athenaeum.

Glück’s poetry possesses a unique ability to transport audiences to a world made of equal parts myth, misery, and ecstasy. She has received numerous awards for her writing, including the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1993 for her book, Wild Iris, and the National Book Award in 2014.

With a career that spans four decades, Glück’s distinct style remains consistent. She doesn't shy away from heavier topics like family, marriage, pain, loss, loneliness, and suffering, and she explores a multilayered representation of a life of woe and wisdom. Her work is known for its references to Greek mythology, her exploration of the self, and her existentialist view.

Glück's poems are undeniably poignant and they forgo the rigidity of structure and rhyme. In fact, they would be considered prose if not for the prominence of symbolism and metaphor.

At the Athenaeum, Glück walked the audience through her career as a poet. She recited her poems aloud, her voice soft and steady. Beginning with some of her first works, including The Triumph of Achilles (1985), and ending with her most recent piece, Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014), Glück gave the audience glimpses into her creative life.

Following the reading, Glück opened the floor to questions. She discussed life obstacles, her poetic inspirations, her writing process, and the theme of loss.

Glück reflected on the difficult periods in her life: “You feel a sort of gratitude to the hard time because look what it has given you. It has given you these lines . . . That doesn’t change your hatred of the hard time, but it changes your relation to it.”

Glück also recognized some of her literary inspirations, which include William Blake, T.S. Eliot, Emiley Dickinson, and William Butler Yeats.

In explaining her creative process, Glück avoids dutifully sitting at a desk, forcing herself to write. “I have no set program . . . I am very dependent on some sort of spark,” she said.

At the event's conclusion, many sitting in the auditorium remained contemplative.

Students present at the reading observed that Glück’s poems encouraged self-reflection. “Her poetry struck me as bleak. I wrote down a lot of lines in my journal, and I’m going to think about them more,” Xuan Yeo CM '16 said.

Meanwhile, Jahnavi Kocha CM '19 said, “I’m taking a writing class with Professor Cole, so she came to visit us in class. We got to speak to her about her process, how she knows a piece is complete, and why she writes.” She continued: “I thought it was really amazing because the poetry discusses death and loss. It spoke to me even though it was mostly fictional.”

Others noted the authenticity of Glück’s work.

“I really liked [the poem] 'October.' It resonated with me when she spoke about the Earth. I felt that she was speaking a lot of truth in terms of how much harm we do to each other and to the planet. She summed it up in such a simple way,” Isabel Wade CM '16 said.

“She was talking afterwards about how hard times result in her poetry and how that makes your image of the hard time very complicated because it produced this beautiful thing even though it was so horrible. That idea is reflected in all the paradoxes in her poetry,” Chalee Dalton PO '19 added, enjoying the contradictions of Glück's work.

To different people, Glück’s poems may seem unsettling, relatable, or perhaps transformative. But one thing is certain: Glück’s work provoke something that deviates from the norm.  

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