Louise Gluck: Poems


Early life

Louise Glück was born in New York City on April 22, 1943. She is the eldest of two surviving daughters of Daniel Glück, a businessman, and Beatrice Glück (née Grosby), a homemaker.[2]

Glück's paternal grandparents, Hungarian Jews, emigrated to the United States, where they eventually owned a grocery store in New York. Glück's father was the first member of his family born in the United States. He had an ambition to become a writer, but went into business with his brother-in-law.[3] Together, they achieved success when they invented the X-Acto Knife.[4] Glück's mother was a graduate of Wellesley College. From an early age, Glück received from her parents an education in Greek mythology and classic stories such as the legend of Joan of Arc.[5] She began to write poetry at an early age.[6]

As a teenager, Glück developed anorexia nervosa, which became the defining challenge of her late teenage and young adult years. She has described the illness, in one essay, as the result of an effort to assert her independence from her mother.[7] Elsewhere, she has connected her illness to the death of an elder sister, an event that occurred before she was born.[2] During the fall of her senior year at George W. Hewlett High School, in Hewlett, New York, she began psychoanalytic treatment. A few months later, she was taken out of school in order to focus on her rehabilitation, although she still graduated in 1961.[8] Of that decision, she has written, "I understood that at some point I was going to die. What I knew more vividly, more viscerally, was that I did not want to die".[7] She spent the next seven years in therapy, which she has credited with helping her to overcome the illness and teaching her how to think.[9]

As a result of her condition, Glück did not enroll in college as a full-time student. She has described her decision to forgo higher education in favor of therapy as necessary: "…my emotional condition, my extreme rigidity of behavior and frantic dependence on ritual made other forms of education impossible".[10] Instead, she took a poetry class at Sarah Lawrence College and, from 1963 to 1965, she enrolled in poetry workshops at Columbia University's School of General Education, which offered programs for non-traditional students.[11][12] While there, she studied with Léonie Adams and Stanley Kunitz. She has credited these teachers as significant mentors in her development as a poet.[13]


After leaving Columbia without a degree, Glück supported herself with secretarial work.[14] She married Charles Hertz, Jr., in 1967. The marriage ended in divorce.[15] In 1968, Glück published her first collection of poems, Firstborn, which received some positive critical attention. However, she then experienced a prolonged case of writer's block, which was only cured, she has claimed, after 1971, when she began to teach poetry at Goddard College in Vermont.[14][16] The poems she wrote during this time were collected in her second book, The House on Marshland (1975), which many critics have regarded as her breakthrough work, signaling her "discovery of a distinctive voice".[17]

In 1973, Glück gave birth to a son, Noah, with her partner, John Dranow, an author who had started the summer writing program at Goddard College.[17][18] In 1977, she and Dranow were married.[15] In 1980, Dranow and Francis Voigt, the husband of poet Ellen Bryant Voigt, co-founded the New England Culinary Institute as a private, for-profit college. Glück and Bryant Voigt were early investors in the institute and served on its board of directors.[18]

In 1980, Glück's third collection, Descending Figure, was published. It received some criticism for its tone and subject matter: for example, the poet Greg Kuzma accused Glück of being a "child hater" for her now widely anthologized poem, "The Drowned Children".[19] On the whole, however, the book was well received. In the same year, a fire destroyed Glück's house in Vermont, resulting in the loss of all of her possessions.[15] In the wake of that tragedy, Glück began to write the poems that would later be collected in her award-winning work, The Triumph of Achilles (1985). Writing in The New York Times, the author and critic Liz Rosenberg described the collection as "clearer, purer, and sharper" than Glück's previous work.[20] The critic Peter Stitt, writing in The Georgia Review, declared that the book showed Glück to be "among the important poets of our age".[21] From the collection, the poem "Mock Orange", which has been likened to a feminist anthem,[22] has been called an "anthology piece" for how frequently it has appeared in poetry anthologies and college courses.[23]

In 1984, Glück joined the faculty of Williams College in Massachusetts as a senior lecturer in the English Department.[24] The following year, her father died.[25] The loss prompted her to begin a new collection of poems, Ararat (1990), the title of which references the mountain of the Genesis flood narrative. Writing in The New York Times in 2012, the critic Dwight Garner called it "the most brutal and sorrow-filled book of American poetry published in the last 25 years".[26] Glück then followed this collection in 1992 with one of her most popular and critically acclaimed books, The Wild Iris, which, in its poems, features garden flowers in conversation with a gardener and a deity about the nature of life. Publishers Weekly proclaimed it an "important book" that showcased "poetry of great beauty".[27] The critic Elizabeth Lund, writing in The Christian Science Monitor, called it "a milestone work".[28] It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1993, cementing Glück's reputation as a preeminent American poet.

While the 1990s brought Glück literary success, it was also a period of personal hardship. Her marriage to John Dranow ended in divorce, the difficult nature of which affected their business relationship, resulting in Dranow's removal from his positions at the New England Culinary Institute.[18] Glück channeled her experience into her writing, entering a prolific period of her career. In 1994, she published a collection of essays called Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry. She then produced Meadowlands (1996), a collection of poetry about the nature of love and the deterioration of a marriage. She followed it with two more collections: Vita Nova (1999) and The Seven Ages (2001).

In 2004, in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Glück published a book-length poem entitled October. Divided into six parts, the poem draws on ancient Greek myth to explore aspects of trauma and suffering.[29] That same year, she was named the Rosenkranz Writer in Residence at Yale University.[30]

Since joining the faculty of Yale, Glück has continued to publish poetry. Her books published during this period include Averno (2006), A Village Life (2009), and Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014). In 2012, the publication of a collection of a half-century's worth of her poems, entitled Poems: 1962-2012, was called "a literary event".[31] Another collection of her essays, entitled American Originality, appeared in 2017.

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