An Iris through the Cracks: Louise Glück

Posted on Apr 04, 2019

Considered one of the most iconic female contemporary poets in the United States, Louise Glück has awed her readers with several poetry collections that emanate such precision and emotion. Her lines are straightforward but full of meaning, showcasing beauty in cold isolation, much like a solitary flower grows through the cracks of a stone wall.

Louise Glück

Glück was born in 1943 in New York City and grew up on Long Island. In 1961, Glück graduated from George W. Hewlett High School and later attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University. Around seven years later, Glück published the first of her many poetry collections, Firstborn (1968), followed by The House on Marshland (1975), The Garden (1976), and Descending Figure (1980).

Louise Glucke Books_1

Though Glück had begun publishing poetry in the sixties, it wasn’t until the eighties that her works began garnering critical acclaim and several awards. The Triumph of Achilles (1985), a collection of 26 poems surrounding classic Greek and Roman mythology, won the National Book Critics Circle Award, while Ararat (1990), a lyrical anthology on family values, chiefly inspired by the Bible, received the Library of Congress’s Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry.

The Wild Iris

The Wild Iris (1992), perhaps Glück’s most famous collection, earned a Pulitzer Prize and praise from several critics. “No American poet writes better than Louise Glück . . . Perhaps none can lead us so deeply into our own nature,” remarked Stephen Dobyns in the New York Times Book Review. The poem after which the collection is named explores the somber yet hopeful themes of mortality and transformation after death: “from the center of my life came / a great fountain, deep blue / shadows on azure seawater.”

Louise Gluck Books_2

Glück kept the ball rolling with Meadowlands (1996), Vita Nova (1999), and The Seven Ages (2001). Averno (2006), a National Book Award finalist, received equal critical praise as The Wild Iris. Like some of her collections, Averno was inspired by Greek and Roman mythology, titled after Lake Avernus in Naples. Nicholas Christopher of the New York Times wrote, “Averno may be her masterpiece. Certainly, it demonstrates that she is writing at the peak of her powers.” During this period, Glück was elected chancellor of the Academy of American Poets (1999) and named the 12th American poet laureate consultant in poetry (2003–2004).

Glück’s latest poetry collections include A Village Life (2009), an “electrifying” departure from her usual poetic style, bordering on novelistic, yet not exempt from critical acclaim. “Ordinariness is part of the risk of these poems; in them, Glück hazards and dodges sentimentality. The near miss makes us shiver,” commented Dana Goodyear of the Los Angeles Times. Her following collection, Poems 1962–2012 (2012), earned the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and her latest work, Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014), won the National Book Award in Poetry.

When Glück isn’t writing poems, she writes essays and teaches at universities. Currently, she resides in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she teaches and also serves as a Rosencranz Writer in Residence.

This month marks National Poetry Month in the United States, and we’re celebrating by featuring our favorite poets of all ages, periods, and nationalities. Check out the Author Highlights series on our 1-Hour Proofreading blog for more feature posts on our favorite writers!


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