Courtesy of Katherine Wolkoff/Steven Barclay Agency
The Swedish Academy
has announced that its choice for the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature is Louise Glück
. Though she now resides in Cambridge, Mass., she lived for many years in Plainfield, Vt. In 1971, Glück was among the original members of the legendary creative writing faculty at Goddard College
in the nation’s first low-residency program. In 1980 she was a founding board member of the New England Culinary Institute
(her then-husband John Dranow was a cofounder of the school).
Glück served as Vermont’s poet laureate — known then as “state poet” — from 1994 to 1998, and as U.S. poet laureate 2003 to 2004.
The poetry of Glück (it rhymes with “flick”) is often praised as austere. The Nobel citation again invokes this epithet, commending “her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.”
The etymology of “austerity” connotes severity and even cruelty, and Glück’s poems and essays do have an exacting reserve that often seems tempered by anguish.
Former Vermont Vanguard
and Vermont Times
reporter and now New York Times
book critic Dwight Garner
, in an article
about her Nobel win, noted that Glück’s “father helped invent the X-acto knife. This is a cosmically sublime detail; no other poet slices with such accuracy and deadly intent.”
Using an utterly quotidian vocabulary and a delicate rhythmical touch, Glück can exalt sensory experience and trace nearly indescribable emotional shifts. The humor in her poems is also subtle and acerbic, never rising to a chuckle but audible to those paying acute attention. She finds the iron
Already bedecked with accolades, the new Nobel laureate is the author of a dozen books of poetry, including The Wild Iris
(1992), winner of the Pulitzer Prize; Poems 1962-2012
(2012), winner of the Los Angeles Times
Book Prize; and Faithful and Virtuous Night
(2014), winner of the National Book Award. She also has two books of essays, Proofs & Theories
(1994) and American Originality: Essays on Poetry
In various ways Glück’s most Vermont-centered volume is the quietly majestic The Wild Iris
. This is a book-length suite of poems revolving around a north country garden enduring the bounty and ravages of the seasons, which for blossoming and fruiting plants are ecstatic but also disastrous. Combining the concentration of prayer with the whimsy of fairy tales, some of these poems are “spoken” by flowers, freeing their author to slip to the side while sustaining the emotional pressure of a first-person narration.
Throughout her work, Glück’s art fuses ardor and candor. With operatic intensity, her poems aren’t the self-dramatizing of merely one person, but performances of perception and experience akin to those of a virtuosic actor or singer. Utilizing the 2,000-year-old vessel of lyric poetry’s “I,” she finds ways to embody her poems’ voices as oracular and prophetic, yet singular and familiar.
Glück is formally adventurous though never flamboyantly so. In her recent books, the lines have lengthened and the texture has grown denser and nuanced in new ways. She utilizes some of the techniques of prose fiction and embraces even more of the variations in human lives amid the wages of aging.
Apropos to the season, here is the end of one section in the six-part poem “October,” from the book Averno: Poems
Come to me
, said the world. I was standing
in my wool coat at a kind of bright portal—
I can finally say
; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty
the healer, the teacher—
death cannot harm me
more than you have harmed me,
my beloved life.
In an early morning telephone interview with the Nobel Prize office, recorded and shared on Twitter
, Gluck responded in part to the question of what the prize (which includes nearly a million dollars) means to her by saying that now she could move back to Vermont.
"I think, practically, I wanted to buy a house in Vermont … I thought, well, I can buy a house," she said. "But mostly I’m concerned for the preservation of daily life with people I love."