How can I be content when there is still that odor in the world?


Though intensity has been a characteristic feature of Glück’s work from the beginning of what is now a long career, the poems have inspired a wide range of epithets. Often they are said to be “chilling,” “supremely reticent,” “distant,” “scrupulous,” “on guard.” And yet the early poems, with their mainly short lines and controlled air of violence and disparagement, seemed to me at first, and now again, to be anything but reticent or aloof. It’s comical, actually, to think of Glück, at any point in her career, as being “on guard” or “distant.” The early poems seethe with opening lines like “Sometimes at night I think of how we did/ It, me nailed in her like steel,” or “Time and again, time and again I tie/ My heart to that headboard/ While my quilted cries/ Harden against his hand.” That a standard, largely misguided line about a major poet should harden into dogma and be repeated, over and over again, is bizarre, as in a 2009 New York Times review featuring the assertion that “All these years…Glück has been writing her stark, emaciated verse,” as if the poet-critic responsible for that observation didn’t know the difference between emaciation and a disciplined refusal of mere ornament, and hadn’t noticed the obvious marks of fullness and feeling in poems frequently anthologized.

more from Robert Boyers at The Nation here.