Louise Glück's Second Act

Updated: Oct 28, 2021


Like a light beaming back from her future, the legacy of Louise Glück’s poetry haunts her as she continues to write at the peak of her powers -- a Nobel Laureate’s medal around her neck and the voice of an Attic chorus on her lips.

It has been barely a year since Glück won the Nobel Prize in Literature, an honor not only well deserved, but well timed. She seems to be charging anew, catching her second wind, after her collected poems were published in 2013, followed by “Faithful and Virtuous Knight,” which won the National Book Award in 2014.

Now in her slim, new volume, “Winter Recipes From the Collective,” she has broken the curse of literary laureates: that there are no second acts in the shadow of the prize.

In this, her 13th book, Glück casts new seeds of contemplation onto the fertile field of the future, facing down the void of death, hoping for a type of resurrection, and pushing against the limits of her calling: all emblems of a fresh creative push in her late 70’s.

“Winter Recipes” comprises only 15 poems and barely breaks 40 pages. But the depth of its philosophical witness and the power of its stark, visionary practice will secure its place as one of Glück’s finest and most memorable works -- its words resonating long after the reader has left the page.

As in “The Wild Iris,” Glück uses a chorus -- this time of purely human voices -- to interject into her verse, and as in “Averno,” perhaps her masterpiece, she once more dons the mask of mythology -- in this case, Chinese -- to explore the reach and resources of her poetic self.

perhaps you will attain

that enviable emptiness into which

all things flow, like the empty cup in the Daodejing.

There is a metaphysical power here; there are worlds upon worlds in Glück’s poems, which prophesy like the Chinese sage Lao Tsu -- crafting maxims to live and die by, and unfurling images of the solitary poet battered by the winds of change.

We climb the same mountain;

I say a prayer for the wind to lift us

but it does no good;

you hide your head so as not

to see the end--

Glück rarely disappoints; her existential aim is true; her heart open to the unknown; her art at once ancient and new, drawing on civilization’s roots to sketch the profile of its impending demise.

We make plans

to walk the trails together.

When, I ask him,

when? Never again:

that is what we do not say.

For readers who think that poetry no longer matters, Glück offers irresistible gifts of “spiritual density.” We can find no easy exit from the grasp of her imagination.

“Winter Recipes From the Collective” promises to be the first scene in Glück’s second act. The Nobel crown suits her well; no longer heavy is the head that wears it.

Arlice Davenport is the author of two books of poetry, Setting the Waves on Fire and Everlasting, both published by Meadowlark Press.

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