Louise Glück has characterized her poetry as having an unchanging interest in love and death. Her earlier work was in the direct, "confessional" style of Sylvia Plath and the Robert Lowell of Life Studies, and while her later poetry retains much of the early, spare directness, it incorporates myth, legend, and history into poems that reinforce their contemporary themes within this broader context. "Myth is not formula," Glück has written, and the allusions and parallels are woven into the texture and subject of the poems, not imposed as an arbitrary addition.
Glück was born in New York City and grew up in the suburbs of Long Island. She attended Sarah Lawrence and Columbia universities - at the latter attending poetry workshops in evening courses. Her college teaching has included appointments at Columbia, the University of Iowa, and Williams College - where she now holds a permanent position.
In her first book, Firstborn (1968), family tensions and domestic scenes are the center of poems that explore disappointment and loss, while striving to give a larger symbolic import to the subject matter. In The House on Marshland (1975) she finds her own voice, as biblical and mythical allusions deepen the literal levels of meaning. The poems project a double vision characteristic of all of Glück's work, of joy or survival within despair, and threat and darkness within pleasure or illusion. In "Gretel in Darkness," for example, Hansel's sister recalls the horror of being trapped in the candy cottage and of killing the witch, and fears the even greater torment that her brother may be forgetting the terrifying experience that has been their intense common bond. Gretel's voice here is that of the distant, alienated narrator common to many of Glück's poems. In "The Mountain" the narrator describes to her students the torments of the writer's life, likening it to the myth of Sisyphus condemned for ever to roll a stone to the top of a hill only always to have it roll down again. But at the same time the end of the poem celebrates adding "height to the mountain" by the composition of the poem itself. "Cottonmouth Country" is set in the scenic beauty of North Carolina's Cape Hatteras, but is acutely aware of the threat of death by water and by land. But "Earthly Love," a poem about the pain of separation and the difficulty of facing the future, concludes with a characteristic note of acceptance of past and future happiness:
Nor does it seem to me crucial to know whether or not such happiness is built on illusion:
it has its own reality.
And in either case, it will end.
Descending Figure appeared in 1980 and The Triumph of Achilles in 1985 -which won the National Book Critics Circle award. With Ararat (1990) Glück's volumes overtly took on more the characteristics of a sequence, exploring various perspectives of a theme rather than collecting individual poems that had been published separately, although Glück has commented that her interest in extended forms began as early as her 1980 book. Ararat concerns a family of three women, a wife, her sister, and a daughter, responding to the death of a husband/father. The Wild Iris (1992) for which Glück received a Pulitzer Prize, follows a New England garden from spring to late summer. Meadowlands (1996) examines a marriage in crisis, while simultaneously offering a reading of Homer's Odyssey - with Penelope very much a contemporary figure. Vita Nova (1999) explores life after a divorce.
In addition to the honors noted above, Glück has received many other awards, including fellowships from the Guggenheim and Rockefeller
Foundations, and the Bollingen Prize. In 1999 she was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She edited and introduced in 1993 that year's volume of the annual series Best American Poetry. In 1994 she published a collection of essays, Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry, a volume which provides some helpful biographical background to the poems. Glück's earlier work was reprinted in The First Five Books of Poems (1997). A recent volume of poetry is The Seven Ages (2001).
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