It took a week to even begin this piece. The hesitation comes from the natural disinclination to skate on the thin ice of a place where one’s knowledge is less than deep. Still, I do know a bit about poetry. I have read a great deal of it and have studied it from numerous angles with numerous brilliant guides. I also have some familiarity with Louise Glück’s work, though hardly as much as many of her fans, and I have yet to read her latest collection, A Village Life.

I know little about William Logan, who reviewed the collection for the New York Times Book Review  — though I recently learned you can read some sadly hilarious excoriations of him if you are inclined to enter his name on Google.

In the haze of my pre-Googling ignorance (that is to say on Sunday, August 30), I was shocked by his chosen method of writing about the work of one of our most lauded poets.

Consider these statements:

“Perhaps I’m not the only reader who finds Glück hilarious, in a ghoulish way—like a stand–up vampire.”

“Glück is too private and cunning a poet ever to win too many friends…”

“Every desire in Glück is cautious; every pleasure is suspect. She’s almost a feral poet, beadily watching her prey before making a devastating remark…”

“Glück became a minimalist’s minimalist, moody, anxious to her fingertips—a nail biter’s nail biter.”

While the review offers much more than this, it sticks in these places. It pokes with that stick. It is bitterly personal and going for the most vulnerable part of an artist who has long labored to give language to her truth. Whether or not all poets are always trying to find the universal in the particular, it cannot be denied that this particular poet has bled for the cause of prosody and has struggled her way to the page and born up under the public’s need to have her account for her journey.

It seems to me that it is a particularly mean-spirited male-ish review, unable to ignore the fact that the work he was to speak of had been written by a woman. It is a piece written by a bully.

I cannot yet offer a scholarly defense of A Village Life. But I can offer a piece of one of her mid-career poems — both in Glück’s defense and as a shame-on-you to Mr. Logan, who clearly never met a line he wasn’t willing to cross.

The Red Poppy

The great thing
is not having
a mind. Feelings:
oh, I have those; they
govern me. I have
a lord in heaven
called the sun, and open
for him, showing him
the fire of my own heart, fire
like his presence.
What could such glory be
if not a heart?

The bravery of these lines is without question. These are the words of a poet who is fully in the light. Perhaps one reviewer of Louise Gluck’s latest poems was gazing in a mirror when he chose the word feral, and perhaps it is up to us to remind him that she has won many friends by virtue of her courage on the page.

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  • Keith Krugerud July 29, 2010 at 2:33 pm

    As I am a faithful reader of Louise Gluck and writer of some poetry, but now being too busy writing a book of essays that give easy to read commentary on A Village Life, I know the feeling – poetry is the plurality of meaning and is ambiguous. Henceforth, I, like other critics and commentators, felt it my duty to give the Gluckian audience some clarification and Gluck some well deserved recognition.

    In my book, I expand and elaborate on the idea of “the via negativa” to not only define more specifically the nature of my project but also show the way Glück seems to perceive and pursue this dark path (and aesthetic) toward positive seeing and perfection. To be sure, within this poem as well the entire A Village Life, Glück addresses fundamental issues to include religion, the past, death, nature, psychoanalysis, and even, language, which appears to be this intangible object swerving through reality and illusion. Although, on the surface, things may appear pessimistic or negative, this little visit reveals ideas about recognizing and improving the situations and way of life and death by seeing so much positive and abundant life, currently.

    Reply
  • Ginger Andrews September 12, 2009 at 12:10 pm

    Laura’s review has inspired me to reread Gluck’s Ararat,
    and rush to purchase her newest work as well.

    Reply
  • Beth Camp September 12, 2009 at 3:39 am

    Thank you for a thoughtful review that affirms the beauty of Gluck’s work and stands up to the “bullying” that unfortunately nearly every artist faces, sometimes from within.

    Reply