Poetry Friday: Louise Glück’s Averno

h1 October 20th, 2006 by jules

averno.gif*{Note: Visit here at Chicken Spaghetti for this week’s Poetry Friday round-up} . . .

Did Eisha and I mention last week that we’re thrilled to finally be participating in Poetry Fridays? We really are. Eisha was looking forward to composing this week’s poetry post, but she is unable to and so I will humbly be doing so again. This week’s selection is not from the realm of children’s poetry, but we promise to get to that soon (not that it’s a requirement . . . I just don’t want to seem as if we’re neglecting all the wonderful poetry for children out there).

This week’s selection is Louise Glück’s most recent anthology of poetry, Averno, which was announced on the 11th of this month as a 2006 National Book Award Finalist in Poetry. (And I apologize that the cover image of this poetry anthology is so difficult to see here, but you may click on it to be taken to another link in which it’s clearer). I have read this collection of poetry twice and might do so again. As Maureen N. McLane put it in The Washington Post, “{r}eading Louise Glück is excruciating.” She means this as a compliment, a deserved one (“{a} poet of taut intensities, she walks a high-wire between the oracular and everyday, the absolute and the ephemeral, the monumental and the delicate,” she elaborates). But this is also to say, on my part, that this is not an anthology to be read quickly. Glück’s writing deserves your full attention and concentration and rumination, but then any good poet does.

This is Glück’s tenth collection of poetry — poems that work as a sequence, eighteen parts of a larger whole that re-work the myth of Persephone. Glück portrays this famous mythical daughter as caught in “an argument between the mother and the lover.” But she also provides contemporary interludes, such as a moving meditation on old age from the first section of the title poem. An excerpt follows:

You die when your spirit dies.
Otherwise, you live.

You may not do a good job of it, but you go on–
something you have no choice about.

When I tell this to my children
they pay no attention.
The old people, they think–
this is what they always do:
talk about things no one can see
to cover up all the brain cells they’re losing.
They wink at each other;
listen to the old one, talking about the spirit
because he can’t remember anymore the word for chair.

It is terrible to be alone.
I don’t mean to live alone–
to be alone, where no one hears you.

I remember the word for chair.
I want to say–I’m just not interested anymore . . .

And, also for your reading pleasure, The Academy of American Poets offers on its site section one of Glück’s “October” from Averno. Enjoy, and happy Poetry Friday . . .

4 comments to “Poetry Friday: Louise Glück’s Averno

  1. Ooh. I love this.

  2. yeah, i do too. esp. the october one you linked. thanks, jules – excellent choice!

  3. thanks….for the record, i’m not clear as to whether or not this is her *tenth* or *twelfth* collection of poetry. i had read eleventh somewhere but thought it was incorrect, ’cause this edition of ‘Averno’ i have lists nine previous collections, but, according to the National Book Award link, there have been eleven. wonder why two aren’t listed here in ‘Averno’? (one, though, is titled ‘The First Four Books of Poems,’ so maybe it’s a K-Town-Records-Best-Of kind of thing, and i say that respectfully — just a lame attempt to be humorous before having had coffee today). anyway, the National Book Award link lists eleven previous collections, and I trust them…so, whoops, this appears to be her twelfth, not tenth, collection. i could just look it up, but there’s the aforementioned lack of coffee i’m experiencing….and my eldest is doing her Evil Genius Laugh from the next room and might be torturing the youngest, so i’ll look that up another time. — jules

  4. […] of the threads between life and death. There are many good reviews of the entire collection online, so I won’t go into the generalities. Instead, I’d like to take a look at one poem in […]

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