An Excerpt from our Art of Poetry Interview with Louise Glück

From The Paris Review:

In early March of 2021, Louise Glück visited Claremont McKenna College in Southern California, where I teach. Because of COVID, she was afraid to fly on a small plane to our regional airport, so I drove her myself from Berkeley, where, for some years, she rented a house during the winters. She packed pumpernickel bagels, apples, and cheese for our six-hour road trip, and she brought CDs of Giuseppe Verdi’s opera Rigoletto, Bertolt Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, and the songs of Jacques Brel, a Belgian master of the modern chanson. Long ago Glück and her former husband had listened to operas on road trips, but this was her first car trip in many years. She knew the musical works backward and forward, pointing out Maria Callas’s vocal strengths and clapping her hands while singing along with Brel. The magnificent almond orchards of central California had just begun to blossom and gleam beside the rolling highway. At the farmers’ market in Claremont, she bought nasturtiums and two baskets of strawberries while talking openly about her girlhood and how she’d weighed only seventy pounds at the worst moment of her anorexia. “But you love food, like a gourmand, Louise,” I said, and she replied, “All anorexics love food.” The hotel where she was staying seemed dingy, but she did not complain. Sitting on the bed cover, she propped herself up with pillows and responded to the endless emails arriving on her mobile phone.

Some months earlier, Glück had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. When the Swedish Academy phoned her quite early in the morning with the marvelous news, she was told that she had twenty-five minutes before the world would know. She immediately called her son, Noah, on the West Coast, and he was joyful after overcoming his panic at hearing the phone ring in the night. Then she called her dearest friend, Kathryn Davis, and her beloved editor, Jonathan Galassi. Reporters quickly appeared on her little dead-end street in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Soon she was exhausted from replying to the journalists’ questions, like “Why do you write so frequently about death?” Because of the lockdown, her Nobel medal was presented in the backyard of her condominium. Gray clouds blocked the sun. A light snow and frost covered the yard. The wind gusted. A small folding table was set up in the grass with an ivory cloth that made the gold medal shimmer. I watched the ceremony from Glück’s back patio, on the second floor. She wore black boots, black slacks, a black blouse, a black leather coat with big shearling lapels, and fingerless gloves. A cameraman asked her several times to pick up her medal, and she obeyed, as the wind blew her freshly cut hair across her face. The Swedish consul general explained that normally Glück would have received her medal from the king of Sweden, but that she was standing in for him. The consulate had sent a large bouquet of white amaryllis, but Glück thought they looked wrong in the austere winter scene, so they were removed from the little table. The ceremony took no longer than five minutes, and she shivered silently until she finally asked if she could go inside to warm up.

From the beginning, Glück cited the influence of Blake, Keats, Yeats, and Eliot—poets whose work “craves a listener.” For her, a poem is like a message in a shell held to an ear, confidentially communicating some universal experience: adolescent struggles, marital love, widowhood, separation, the stasis of middle age, aging, and death. There is a porous barrier between the states of life and death and between body and soul. Her signature style, which includes demotic language and a hypnotic pace of utterance, has captured the attention of generations of poets, as it did mine as a nascent poet of twenty-two. In her oeuvre, the poem of language never eclipses the poem of emotion. Like the great poets she admired, she is absorbed by “time which breeds loss, desire, the world’s beauty.”

Link to the rest at The Paris Review