As one of America's most lauded contemporary poets, Louise Gluck poems consists of a relatively simply vocabulary. Her style and focus on detail, not shying away from a complete break in coherence, give these simple terms a depth of meaning rarely achieved by others. These breaks in coherence and creative usage of cohesion can make a second and third read of any given poem necessary before the general concepts are understood. Throughout her long career, the tenor of her poems stayed relatively similar with a willful first person narration and often a disembodied, un-described audience. The poems seem to switch between plots, following the mental processes of the narrator.
Gluck is mainly known for her focus on the darker aspects of existence. Her poetry toys with death and despair, utilizing sometimes generally contradictory elements. For example, within her poem "Vita Nova" (1999) the plot continuously changes between a happy memory of a spring day by the lake and meta-analysis of these events. The poem ends with the spring being utilized as a harbinger of death, a generally unconventional usage of the season. Taken a similar concept from the other end can be found in "The Wild Iris" (1992), when the lyrical I journeys through death to find a new voice and therefore a new life.
The personal relation of her characters to death always plays a major role within her poems. While rarely any of them show outright fear or despair, the mood is never delightful or joyous. Even in generally joyful situations, like the spring memory of "Vita Nova", an air of sombre contemplation is created. In the case of "Vita Nova" this is reached through the first line, where the narrator pleads to be remembered by the unnamed audience, who saved her. This lyrical twist manages to embody the feelings of someone reliving their life, maybe on the deathbed, in eerie accuracy.
While most of her life's work was focussed on creating poetry with similar themes, the later poetry of the 21st century is imbued with a new aspect, namely aging. What can be seen in the winning poem "Averno", the lyrical "I" is considering death by other means than dying. Death is reached when the spirit, the mind leave.
Gluck's poetry has been described as being intensely relatable and intimately connected to the reader. This is probably what made her so popular. Her style and focus on feelings of fear, consternation or stupidity are something that most of us can relate to in some ways.