The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 02, 2010

Louise Glück in Conversation

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: In issue 36 of American Poet, the biannual journal of the Academy of American Poets, former U.S. Poet Laureate Louise Glück spoke with Dana Levin about her most recent collection, A Village Life, a 2010 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award.

Glück is considered by many, including former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Hass, as “one of the purest and most accomplished lyric poets now writing." Because she only rarely gives interviews, Glück's conversation with Levin allows unique insight into the mind of one of our great poets. The full version of her interview, “For a Dollar: Louise Glück in Conversation,” can be read here. // Adam Eaglin

 a village life

Dana Levin: What did [A Village Life] teach you aesthetically?

Louise Glück: I think I won't even know until I try to do something else. I remember talking to Richard Siken after Averno. I wasn't writing, and I was beginning to fret about it. I go through periods—long periods—of not writing. And sometimes that's not the focus of my anxiety. It's not that I am without anxiety, it's that my anxiety is in some other place; then all of a sudden I become preoccupied with my silence and quite panicky. I was entering that period and Richard said, 'Your next book has to be completely different, just sort of playing in the mud.' And that was exactly my feeling, that I had done everything I could do at the moment with poems operating on a vertical axis of transcendence and grief. And this new manuscript had to be more panoramic, somehow, and casual, with a kind of unbeautiful surface. So it taught me how to write an unbeautiful surface. What a triumph. [sardonic laugh]

Just to be able to write a longer poem, I think, was interesting... I had tremendous pleasure writing these poems. I loved being in that world. And I could get there almost without effort. Well, for a short period. You know, now I can't go...

DL: You can never go back to Brigadoon.

LG: No, never! I can't go back to any of these places. None of them. I never re-read my old work, so I don't even know what I think of it.

{More after the jump}

DL: Each of your books presents a voice recognizably yours, and yet one can also track distinct formal shifts from one collection to the next. Have such shifts in approach been a conscious aim?

LG: I think the only conscious aim is the wanting to be surprised. The degree to which I sound like myself seems sort of a curse.

DL: [laughs] That reminds me of Wallace Shawn saying, 'I think there's something idiotic about the self, that every day you have to get up and be the same person.'

LG: Yeah! That's the limitation. I'm glad if it also can seem a virtue.

DL: I know you take teaching very seriously, and that for over a decade you have been a public champion of the work of emerging writers. How do mentorship and teaching affect your life?

LG: Ah, how to begin. This is assumed to be an act of generosity on my part: teaching and editing. I cannot too strenuously make another case. I don't think anybody does anything that takes this much time, outside the Catholic church, without a motive of intense self-interest. What I do with young writers I do because it's fuel for me. And sometimes I tell the winners of these contests that I'm Dracula, I'm drinking their blood.

I feel quite passionately that the degree to which I have, if I have, stayed alive as a writer and changed as a writer, owes much to the intensity with which I've immersed myself in the work, sometimes very alien work, of people younger than I, people making sounds I haven't heard. That's what I need to know about.

Virtually every young writer about whose work I've been passionate has taught me something. From you, I've learned one way of keeping a poem going. Long lines. It's not that I ever wrote anything that sounds like you, but I was certainly trying to. When I read Peter Streckfus's work and fell completely under the spell of that work, I found myself writing a poem I thought I stole from him. And was alarmed and carefully read through the book that won the Yale that year, as well as the manuscript, and I could not find what I had written in his work, but I felt I had to call him and apologize.

DL: How did he take that?

LG: Peter's attitude toward what I consider to be theft is very different. He said, 'Oh, I think this is just wonderful. That's what writers do. We're in dialogue.' And I said, 'Peter, you don't understand – I stole!' But, you know, in every literal way I hadn't. The words were mine. But I knew where the impulse, the stimulus, had come from. And then I tried to do things with it that in fact I hadn't seen in Peter's work, so that I would feel it was mine.


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Ella Wagemakers

Dear Dana,

I am wondering if it is possible to come into contact with Miss Glück.

Or do I just try to contact her through the university with which she is currently connected?

Hoping for a reply.

Yours truly,

Ella Wagemakers-Sanchez
The Netherlands

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