Last Tuesday, Louise Glück gave a poetry reading in the Adams Memorial Theatre in the ’62 Center for Theatre and Dance. Glück is a former Poet Laureate of the United States whose 2014 poetry collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night, won the National Book Award for Poetry. Some of her other works include Pulitzer Prize-winning The Wild Iris and the 2006 National Book Award-nominated poetry collection Averno. A highly celebrated American poet, Glück is also a well-known and beloved member of the College community, having taught at the College for 20 years.
Before beginning her reading, Glück explained that she would be reading from a repertoire of poems spanning from the beginning of her career to her later works. She began with “October,” reading out in a steady voice that smoothed over the enjambments, “Didn’t the night end,/ didn’t the melting ice/ flood the narrow gutters/ wasn’t my body/ rescued, wasn’t it safe.” Glück’s early poetry, though spare, is prophetic in the confidence of its assertions, a voice that she described as that of “delphic prophecy.” Glück then turned to confessional poetry, reading three love poems from two different periods of her writing. The first two, sections of a nine-part poem entitled “Marathon,” documented a love affair. “The Encounter” spoke to embodied desire: “You must have known, then, how I wanted you. We will always know that, you and I. The proof will be my body.” In comparison, “Night Song” – a poem which comes later in the sequence – takes on a much darker tone, as the end of the affair simultaneously seems to be a vision of death: “The calm of darkness/ is the horror of Heaven.” “You’ll get what you want,” the narrator both promises and warns in the last line. “You’ll get your oblivion.”
Despite the heavy subject matter of her poems, Glück acknowledged this and met darkness with humor. In between poems, she stopped to ask if the audience could properly hear her and described her reading voice as “my cheerleader voice, which I never got to use, owing to the fact of my depression in high school.”
She then moved on to a few prose poems that she wrote in the process of compiling a book. Glück recounted for us their story: a friend and prose writer Kathryn Davis suggested that she reread some of Kafka’s short stories, “paying me the compliment of assuming I had read them – I actually had, by some happy miracle … and I did this, though I thought it was a foolish exercise, wanton.” The exercise proved fruitful; “In almost no time, I wrote five or six prose poems, a form that had never had the slightest allure or interest for me, banal,” she said. “But these little prose poems I fell in love with, much better than Kafka, in my opinion. And, when I was done with them, the book was complete.”
Glück attributed the final poem she read to her time at the College and her friendship with Professor of Classics Emerita Meredith Hoppin and Professor of English David Langston. “[Hoppin] had a dream in which… either three of us or two of us were on the roof of a building, and I suggested that we all leap, and the dream said that we entered, or it was known that we were part of, nirvana,” Glück recounted. “And I thought this was just the most thrilling dream, and I was so happy to have participated in this dream. I wrote a poem using the dream and then add[ed] something that transformed it enough that I felt I could sign my name to it instead of Meredith’s, but I cannot express my debt to this place.”
The poem, “Fable,” reads: “Then I looked down and saw/ the world I was entering, that would be my home./ And I turned to my companion, and I said Where are we?/ And he replied, Nirvana./ And I said again But the light will give us no peace.”