E d i t o r i a l poems riveting and filled with feeling and I suppose that maybe that feeling is underneath – is an undercurrent – it’s a very strong undercurrent and she can use very little means to achieve a great deal of effect.’ We too were first drawn to Glück’s poetry by Eavan Boland, and when I came to write Lives of the Poets (1998) my account of Boland was followed by an account of Glück, in a chapter entitled ‘Language and the Body’. ‘In an essay she writes, “One of the revelations of art is the discovery of a tone or perspective at once wholly unexpected and wholly true to a set of materials.” This truth to materials – language, occasion, antecedent – is the proof of a poem. For the poet the question of truth (variously conceived) outweighs all others.’ The truth is there for the reader: the poem in its full complexity and truth demands the readerly eye and ear. Sound is crucial, but active sound, sound deduced from the text and made by the reader. She has developed a dislike for a performed poem, especially if the poet performs: such reading confines and diminishes it, surrendering it to a shared occasion in time, to voice, and to the audience’s collective illusion that any ‘I’ the poet speaks points back at the poet reading the poem as its subject. She resists the idea of inter-poem patter, of ‘spoonfeeding’ the listener, of directing the listener by entertaining anecdote and gesture. The engagement of a reader with the poem rather than of the audience with the poet matters. A poem is full of voices, and to reduce it to a single speaker constrains it.
At a time when performance is almost de rigueur in the poetry world, it is possible to see how radical the Nobel committee’s choice is, almost, as it were, affirming the primacy of the art against the preferences, not to say prejudices, of the age.
The award of a Nobel Prize to a poet is a rare occurrence, to a female poet even rarer (only Gabriela Mistral and Wisława Szymborska precede Glück). We were thrilled and surprised when the news came through. At a time when other-than-artistic demands are made of artistic judgement, demands which have to do with a range of – call them – issues and not immediately with the art of the poem itself, it seemed a brave choice by a committee reconstituted in the wake of scandal, knowing that it would be subject to more minute scrutiny than ever as a result.
Glück’s friend and colleague Claudia Rankine declared, ‘She is a tremendous poet, a great mentor, and a wonderful friend. I couldn’t be happier. We are in a bleak moment in this country, and as we poets continue to imagine our way forward, Louise has spent a lifetime showing us how to make language both mean something and hold everything.’ – The poet herself is a little shy of the title. ‘Poet must be used cautiously,’ she wrote; ‘it names an aspiration, not an occupation. In other words: not a noun for a passport.’