The 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Louise Glück
October 8, 2020 4:08 AM   Subscribe

American poet Louise Glück is the Nobel Laureate for 2020. You can read her poetry in various places online, such as at the website of the Poetry Foundation and the New Yorker. Dan Chiasson profiled her for the latter in 2012. Modern American Poetry has a couple of interviews with her online.
posted by Kattullus (22 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Glück's poem Averno, from the book of the same name, isn't a bad place to start, if you're wondering what to read by her.
posted by Kattullus at 4:27 AM on October 8 [7 favorites]

Yay! I haven’t read anything from her in recent years, but I reread her older stuff regularly. Given it’s October, I recommend ”All Hallows” for someone who wants just one poem to read.
posted by cupcakeninja at 4:59 AM on October 8 [4 favorites]

Early December in Croton-on-Hudson

By Louise Glück

Spiked sun. The Hudson’s
Whittled down by ice.
I hear the bone dice
Of blown gravel clicking. Bone-
pale, the recent snow
Fastens like fur to the river.
Standstill. We were leaving to deliver
Christmas presents when the tire blew
Last year. Above the dead valves pines pared
Down by a storm stood, limbs bared . . .
I want you.
posted by chavenet at 5:20 AM on October 8 [7 favorites]

Every once and a while I'll run into poetry that hits me the way that it should. Where the words have, to paraphrase Louis McMaster Bujold, more than just their height and width, but a depth and weight to them as well. Glück's poems go beyond that. They're hitting a fourth or fifth dimension here.

So thank you to the Nobel committee for letting me know about these wonderful poems. And than you to Kattullus (semi eponisterical?) for the post. I'm going to have to go read a bunch more or her work now.
posted by Hactar at 6:17 AM on October 8 [2 favorites]

I'm a bit ashamed that I thought she died a couple of years ago, but she is wonderful and that is all.
posted by Think_Long at 6:31 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]

Afternoons and Early Evenings

The beautiful golden days when you were soon to be dying
but could still enter into random conversations with strangers,
random but also deliberate, so impressions of the world
were still forming and changing you,
and the city was at its most radiant, uncrowded in summer
though by then everything was happening more slowly—
boutiques, restaurants, a little wine shop with a striped awning,
once a cat was sleeping in the doorway;
it was cool there, in the shadows, and I thought
I would like to sleep like that again, to have in my mind
not one thought. And later we would eat polpo and saganaki,
the waiter cutting leaves of oregano into a saucer of oil—
What was it, six o’clock? So when we left it was still light
and everything could be seen for what it was,
and then you got in the car—
where did you go next, after those days,
where although you could not speak you were not lost?

Louise Glück
posted by ALeaflikeStructure at 7:22 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]

Great poet. Not as un-nuanced as Billy Collins, another former U.S. Poet Laureate, who made a lot of noise during his tenure (which is fine, yay poetry). Her work is eminently readable, unlike a lot of contemporary poets who seem to aim for density and obscurity. My tastes may lean further to the outré than Louise Glück, but choosing her (and previously Bob Dylan) seems to indicate that the Nobel Prize committee might be heading away from their previously heavy emphasis on politics/nationality as important factors in their decisions.
posted by kozad at 7:26 AM on October 8


Except that its a lot of white folks, and not a lot of people from elsewhere. The prize is still deeply eurocentric.
posted by PinkMoose at 7:50 AM on October 8 [2 favorites]

The current issue of NYRB includes one of her poems. How timely.
posted by hwestiii at 8:11 AM on October 8

Only 5 of the last 11 prizes went to Europeans. That's Eurocentric, but not extremely.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 11:34 AM on October 8 [1 favorite]

Gluck--American, writes in English.
Handke--Austrian, writes in German
Olga Tokarczuk--Polish, writes in Polish.
Kazua Ishigro--Japanese, writes in English
Bob Dylan--American, writes in English
Svetlana Alexievich--Ukrainian, writes in Russian
Patrick Modiano--French, writes in French
Munro--Canadian, writes in English
Mo Yan--Chinese, writes in Mandarin
Transtormer--Swedish, writes in Swedish.
Llosa--Peruvian, writes in Spanish.
Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio French, writes in French.
Mueller--German, writes in German
Lessing--English, writes in English
Paruk--Turkish, writes in Turkish.

Look, at for example the most common written languages in the world:

Mandrian--2 lit lauretes, one in exile, half of the spanish speaking lauretes from spain, one laurete in Bengali, none in Hindi, the only portugese laurete is not from Brazil, three japanese, one writing in English; none in Punjabi, none in Arabic, none in Telegu, none in Igbo, none in Swahili.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:31 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]

More white South Africans have won than anyone else on the continent.
posted by PinkMoose at 11:34 PM on October 8 [1 favorite]

I really do not understand how the Noble Prize folks adjudicate giving out a literature prize with global scope. There are so many languages literature is written in there's little chance their judges' panel is made up of people with a command of a significant number of them. And literature -- especially poetry -- often doesn't translate well. How can their judges survey deeply enough enough of what's being produced around the world to make a meaningful evaluation? Are they really just going by reputation?
posted by bertran at 1:53 AM on October 9

Louise Glück: where to start with an extraordinary Nobel winner

And this one seems both of its time, and of ours:

Mock Orange

It is not the moon, I tell you.
It is these flowers
lighting the yard.

I hate them.
I hate them as I hate sex,
the man’s mouth
sealing my mouth, the man’s
paralyzing body—

and the cry that always escapes,
the low, humiliating
premise of union—

In my mind tonight
I hear the question and pursuing answer
fused in one sound
that mounts and mounts and then
is split into the old selves,
the tired antagonisms. Do you see?
We were made fools of.
And the scent of mock orange
drifts through the window.

How can I rest?
How can I be content
when there is still
that odor in the world?
posted by chavenet at 2:25 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]

At the start of my freshman year in the US, I had, over the course of my entire education, written a grand total of two papers. (Three, if you count the 8th grade report on Anne Frank.) Essay-writing, in high school in Korea, wasn't really a thing. I knew—without a shred of evidence, but still, I knew—that I was capable of good writing. But good writing had not yet been formally demanded of me.

So when, for my first response paper for English 101 (it was about "The Snow Man," by Wallace Stevens, a poem that I've never since been able to look in the eye), my instructor gave me a C+ ("if your analysis, here, were as graceful as your prose," she scrawled in red ballpoint, "this might actually amount to something"), I saw it as a personal affront.

Also, as an opportunity.

I made it my mission in life to get an A from her. It wasn't easy. She didn't always think my prose was graceful. "This allusion to Yeats," red lines everywhere, "is simply not acceptable"—B-. “'It' is an ugly word”—here the red ballpoint tore the paper a little bit—“Don't use it”—B+.

I couldn't get over that last one. It became a kind of mantra, a koan. Don't use it? Don't use “it”? Which “it” was it? Why?

I started observing her for clues. When she read poems, she read them in a voice that bore no relation to any voice I'd ever heard—all stop, no start, with an implied question pregnant in every pause. The linebreaks, the absence there. The absence of any it or “it.” Was this it? The secret? I tried it out. Hesitation. Silence. Burst. Was this the way? To read—a poem?

I felt dizzy, like I didn't exist.

I kept grinding away at the parts of my writing that she didn't like. This is too long for her, I started to recognize. She won't like this sentence. Cut. This sentence starts with an “it.” Chop it hack it break it crumble it throw it away.

This seemed to work.

When, on our last class of the semester, she read my final essay out loud in class, and handed it back to me with a big red A+, that felt like a vindication. That felt like victory. That made me feel real.

It was years before I could use “it” again.

By then I finally knew what it was: my voice.

Still, that early experience—of being destroyed, of remaking myself in the image of someone else—was—formative. Formative in a profoundly ambiguous way, but formative nevertheless. My voice wouldn't be my voice without it. And I owe that much—much more than that, but that much, at least—to her.

Today I heard she won the Nobel prize.
posted by what does it eat, light? at 6:08 AM on October 9 [17 favorites]

This is possibly the only good news in 2020.
posted by whir at 6:44 AM on October 9 [1 favorite]

This poem of hers has got me through some tough times.

The Wild Iris

Read by Louise Glück

At the end of my suffering
there was a door.

Hear me out: that which you call death
I remember.

Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.

It is terrible to survive
as consciousness
buried in the dark earth.

Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater
posted by interogative mood at 8:34 AM on October 9 [2 favorites]

Hesitate to Call

Lived to see you throwing
Me aside. That fought
Like netted fish inside me. Saw you throbbing
In my syrups. Saw you sleep. And lived to see
That all. That all flushed down
The refuse. Done?
It lives in me.
You live in me. Malignant.
Love, you ever want me, don’t.
posted by jesourie at 9:41 PM on October 9 [2 favorites]

"I remember the word for chair"
Averno would be my choice.

instructor gave me a C+

my first poetry prof gave me that as a final for challengingl her, every class. I had no wish to for her A nor was it my job to run the discussion everytime, so I skipped half the class and stiil pulled the c+. The time in the bar was worth more then what she taught and when your covering syallbus, DONT tell your students they most likely won't succeed at amateur level, let alone the local scene or minor poet which is great. Poets make there living by words primarily. I don't know WHY folks have to something something centric poetry prizes would Louis Gluck get into the South African arts awards. Hell, I think Dennis Brutus should have won a Nobel. Besides I asked him if he would accept a Nobel, naively. Sorta smiled.

Gluck gets into my shoulder and calenders. Sees what is missing from the absent aforethought that can tousle be bold as a wave washing driftwood from a forest to far to care, scenery, rounded grit and aforethought torn, ready, verge and verve. stoic and tear. Frocked mist.
posted by clavdivs at 8:05 PM on October 11 [3 favorites]

... the Dylan business was a mistake, everyone knows they mean to give it to Leonard Cohen.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:01 AM on October 12

By then I finally knew what it was: my voice.

Flagged as fantastic (and also, possibly, eponysterical).
posted by kristi at 3:01 PM on October 14

Stephanie Burt in The Guardian:
Readers who follow American poetry closely noticed Louise Glück in the 1970s. The rest of the literary world mostly took her Nobel prize last week as a surprise. And no wonder. She is not particularly topical, nor internationally influential; like the sadder-but-wiser adults who populate her later work, she can seem to keep her own counsel, to withdraw. That attitude is not so much a limit as a condition for her success, over a lifetime of serious, often terse, introspective, unsettling, sometimes exhilarating work. Like all authors of her calibre she harbours contradictions. Read her 12 collections (and two chapbooks) of poetry for the first time, and they may seem almost all of a piece. Read them again, though, and the divisions pop out: she has said that she tries to change, to challenge herself, even to reverse direction with each new book, and if you go deep enough you can see how she’s right.
One thing Burt touches on that most people in the US seem not to realize is how obscure Glück was outside North America. I know only one non-American who had read her.

I always love when the Nobel Prize goes to a great writer who doesn’t have a global profile.
posted by Kattullus at 2:25 PM on October 19

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