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This week’s announcement that Jewish-American writer Louise Glück has received the Nobel Prize in Literature is cause for celebration during a decidedly difficult season. Glück, who is widely regarded as one of the most gifted lyrical poets of our time, is the first American woman poet ever to have received this honor. The Nobel literature committee has cited her “unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal” and her powerful use of mythology, noting that within her poetry, “[t]he voices of Dido, Persephone, and Eurydice—the abandoned, the punished, the betrayed—are masks for a self in transformation.”
The aesthetic range of Glück’s 12 highly-acclaimed collections demonstrates an extraordinary ability to reinvent her approach to themes that are both deeply personal and universally recognizable: the enchantments and wounds of childhood, the mystery of estrangement, the resurgence of hope after dormancy or despair. Her poetry is rich in imagery that’s stunningly vivid but holds the visceral power of dreams.
Though it’s impossible to say how a poet finds her own territory, the fact that Glück’s forebears were Eastern European Jewish immigrants may have some relationship to her preoccupation with loss and the refuge of language. Stylistically, many of her poems are spare and unsettling—alchemical, really, in their power to transform a moment into symbolic gold. In a cultural milieu where poetry is often viewed as impenetrable, Glück has given us a body of work that’s at once inviting and complex.
Louise Glück was born in New York City in 1943. She is a former U.S. poet laureate and current writer-in-residence at Yale University. Here are links to three of her remarkable poems: “All Hallows,” “October (section 1)” and “The Night Migrations.”
For those interested in reading more of her work, I recommend her collected poems (Poems 1962-2012), which will soon be reprinted by Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Jody Bolz is Moment’s poetry editor.
Top photo: Portrait of Louise Glück used for a poster promoting a reading at the Poetry Center at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago.