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It is the astonishment of Louise Glück's poetry that it resists collection. With each successive book her drive to leave behind what came before has grown more fierce, the force of her gaze fixed on what has yet to be imagined. She invented a form to accommodate this need, the book-length sequence of poems, like a landscape seen from above, a novel with lacunae opening onto the unspeakable. The reiterated yet endlessly transfigured elements in this landscape—Persephone, a copper beech, a mother and father and sister, a garden, a husband and son, a horse, a dog, a field on fire, a mountain—persistently emerge and reappear with the dark energy of the inevitable, shot through with the bright aspect of things new-made.
From the outset ("Come here / Come here, little one"), Gluck's voice has addressed us with deceptive simplicity, the poems in lines so clear we "do not see the intervening fathoms."
From within the earth's
bitter disgrace, coldness and barrenness
my friend the moon rises:
she is beautiful tonight, but when is she not beautiful?
To read these books together is to understand the governing paradox of a life lived in the body and of the work wrested from it, the one fated to die and the other to endure.
Though Gl ck has held national fame since the late 1970s for her terse, pared-down poems, this first career-spanning collected may be the most widely noted, and the most praised, collected poems in some time. Here is the Pulitzer Prize winning The Wild Iris (1992), whose talking flowers encapsulated birth, death, loss, and hope; here are the starkly framed family memories of her controversial Ararat (1990), and the careful, self-accusing humor of late work such as The Seven Ages (2001). Here, too, are the stormy, almost overexposed poems (reminiscent of Robert Lowell) with which she began, and the calmly uncompromising universals of A Village Life (2009), where "the mountain stands like a beacon, to remind the night that the earth exists." Through screens of familiar stories (Achilles, Penelope, Dante) or through overt albeit terse autobiography, Gl ck at once scrutinizes her own life and reflects on the process by which poems get made, the way that we, too, may come to know ourselves: "Like everyone else," she reflects, "I had a story,/ a point of view.// A few words were all I needed:/ nourish, sustain, attack." Turning life stories to myths; myths to cool, scary proverbs, Gl ck compares her style accurately to "bright light through the bare tree," her process of writing to spying, to silent listening: "In my own mind, I'm invisible that's why I'm dangerous."