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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Former poet laureate Louise Glück reads from new book

Published: April 30, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.

A Village Life: Pultizer Prize-winning poet Louise Glück read her work at The Rose Art Museum.
PHOTO BY Lien Phung/The Hoot

In a series of powerful readings, former United States poet laureate and Fannie Hurst visiting professor Louise Glück shared with Brandeis students a few selections from her new book of poetry “A Village Life.”

According to event coordinator and Glück’s friend, Professor Mary Campbell (ENG), the renowned poet doesn’t like to do readings. Campbell hypothesized that she feels like “she doesn’t own it—a gate opened in her mind, it came out of her and the doors shut again.” Campbell suggested that Glück wants to keep her life separate from her work. She did not want to become like Sylvia Plath, whose work has become entwined with her life story. Campbell said, “[Plath] is not considered a great poet because she isn’t seen as making art.”

Glück’s reluctance at doing readings is surprising because at the event it was a joy to listen to her. She used simple words to construct poetic turns of phrase that chilled the spine because of the depths of truth she touched upon. Many of the first poems she read like “Tributaries” and “At the River” featured water imagery, which was appropriate as, in the Lois Foster Wing of the Rose Art museum, the audience could hear the soft patter of rain.

In “Tributaries” young and old gather around a fountain, with children frolicking around it while the elderly are consigned to sit at metal tables on the outskirts. In this poem, water is the life source and the fountain is the center. The comparison of water to a life source seemed to fit the collection’s preoccupation with aging and what it means as one approaches death. This opening poem was also a revelation of the way that many of Glück’s poems include a breathtaking rhythmic quality: “avenue of broken faith, avenue of disappointment, avenue of lost time,” she read.

Campbell described how each of Glück’s books of poetry is a new experiment with language. “A Village Life” differs from her previous works in the length of the line.

“[A Village Life] is so novelistic but it isn’t a novel,” Campbell said. “[The reader] gets glimpses like an artsy foreign film, your own mind gets to do the filling in. [She] creates space for [your] own imagination.”

“My natural language was brevity … austerity,” Glück explained. “The adventure of writing is trying to stay surprised. Long form really surprised, it contradicted every impulse I have.”

While Glück may be wordier in this new book of poetry, she doesn’t use any superfluous language. Nearly every word is used to its best effect. Her descriptions are concise and fitting. She depicted a tired mother, sick of life, as a “dry blade of grass.”

The best poem that Glück read at the event was the titular “A Village Life.” Glück likens the “dead moon” to the soul and this comparison seemed both new and familiar. New because Glück used simple but evocative language that made her description appear fresh and yet familiar because what she said seemed true.

Currently, Glück is waiting for her next burst of inspiration. “[I’ve] gone for long periods in life not writing at all. You have to have stamina to wait out your silences in the hope that they end,” she said. “[I] wait for something that will make me alive again after a long period of being dead.”

Glück’s visit was part of Creative Writing’s “School of Night” reading series. To finish off the semester, on May 4, Creative Writing seniors will read excerpts from their novels that they wrote for their senior theses.