September 30, 2009


i really have a lot more to tell you about louise glück.
i've long been in search of information on her personal life as not told by poems, and i looked for this where else but the internet, which yielded nothing. then yesterday my friend natalie gave me the best present ever: a personal essay written by louise glück on her life/development as a writer. i purposely say writer instead of poet because as she writes, "'poet' must be used cautiously; it names an aspiration, not an occupation." the essay is full of pithy statements such as this one. also, so you know, it's called "education of the poet" and it's from a book of essays that she published under the title "proofs and theories." this particular essay is the only one i've looked at. the essay was an actual lecture that she delivered at the guggenheim museum in 1989.

personal biography aside, glück gets to some things about the torment known as the writing process:

"it is very strange to want so much what cannot be achieved in life. the high jumper knows, at the instant after performance, how high he has been; his achievement can be measured both immediately and with precision. but for those of us attempting dialogue with the great dead, it isn't a matter of waiting: the judgement we wait for is made by the unborn; we can never in our lifetimes know it.
the profundity of our ignorance concerning the merit of what we do creates despair, it also fuels hope."

i could quote this essay all day at you, but what i'm gonna do instead is just jump ahead to my favorite part and then go to sleep. i think it calls for proper capitalization.

"I remember an argument I had with someone's mother when I was eight or nine; it was her day for carpool duty and our assignment in school had involved composition. I'd written a poem, and was asked to recite it, which I readily did. My special triumph with this poem had involved a metrical reversal in the last line (not that I called it that), an omission of the final rhyme: to my ear it was exhilarating, a kind of explosion of form. The form, of course, was doggerel. In any case, our driver congratulated me: a very good poem, she said, right till the last line, which she then proceeded to rearrange aloud into the order I had explicitly intended to violate. You see, she told me, all that was missing was that last rhyme. I was furious, and especially furious in that I knew my objections would read as defensive response to obvious failure."

September 22, 2009

i cannot care forever

the word sentimentality stirs a lot of negative connotations, especially when we're talking about poetry. i would never want someone to read a poem of mine and say, "oh, how sentimental." i guess i'm thinking about this because i just got a paper back from a teacher who said to me "what a personal essay, this must have been hard for you to write." WAIT, ACTUALLY, i didn't really think it was that personal and it wasn't that hard for me to write, but now i'm just gonna turn red and back out of your office while saying "see you in class" like 40 times. so yeah, i didn't like that. but WHY didn't i like that? the teacher did not mean that it was bad or wrong, she was telling me she enjoyed it, but i still felt like i'd written something too "emotional" and that "emotional" really means BAD.

sentimentality and personal are very very not the same. for example, let me refer you back to our friend louise, who is real personal, but not real sentimental. she seems kinda freaky in that way though, right? right. but i dig her filtration system. her poems are clean, linear, and what she makes is the opposite of sentimentality.

questions for you, reader: is sentimentality the same as emotional? is sentimental writing bad? always? really?

moving on, some people do sentimentality right. i would in this case point to pablo neruda, and one of his poems from his book "20 love poems and a song of despair." yikes, love poems. that's a dangerous edge to walk on. anyway, there's one i really appreciate, which you have probably read/at least heard the line "love is so short, forgetting is so long." yeah, that line is from this poem, which is great. AND sentimental, at least according to my definition of sentimental. and speaking of definitions of sentimental here's something interesting. sentimental is defined as "of or prompted by feelings of tenderness sadness or nostalgia." but sentimenality is defined as "excessive tenderness, sadness, or nostalgia." EXCESSIVE!!!!!!! what, how'd we get to be excessive?? but anyway, i think that's where that negative connotation hales from. because no matter what's going on in your writing, surely you never want someone to call you "excessive."

September 20, 2009

so, say it really happened. that doesn't mean

"synonyms do not exist." - donald hall

September 16, 2009

no one could write a novel about this family: too many similar characters

i think we should discuss louise glück. brace yourself.

Lost Love

My sister spent a whole life in the earth.
She was born, she died.
In between,
not one alert look, not one sentence.

She did what babies do,
she cried. But she didn't want to be fed.
Still, my mother held her, trying to change
first fate, then history.

Something did change: when my sister died,
my mother's heart became
very cold, very rigid,
like a tiny pendant of iron.

Then it seemed to me my sister's body
was a magnet. I could feel it draw
my mother's heart into the earth,
so it would grow.

there are a couple reasons that i like louise. FIRST: she's a sarah lawrence girl. rad. second of all, the voice is incredibly straightforward. so straightforward that it is, in fact, alarming. and lord knows i love to be alarmed. i enjoy her darkness the way i enjoy todd solondz movies. the detachment of this voice is so... accurate? it characterizes so much that is beyond the poem. do i hear pity? and what about the end, where the mother's heart is drawn under ground, away from her still living child, and it flourishes. what of that?
last night i remembered how to write poetry after having not done it for a while. i remembered that before anything goes down on the page, there must be emotion attached to it. but then i look at this poem. and where is her emotion on the page? it's like she's not even there. and yet i'm reacting. but is my reaction emotional? not really. i would characterize it as voyeuristic. the poem is displayed through a very very very very filtered lense. she's bold. the writing reflects the physical nature of the mother's heart, "cold and rigid," not to mention the rigidness that we would associate with you know, dead babies.
this poem is a good example of what you can expect from glück. these particular poems are from her book, ararat, which if you're in the market for poetry, i really recommend owning, so that can submerge in it and live life from under the water.

one more!

Brown Circle

My mother wants to know
why, if I hate
family so much,
I went ahead and
had one. I don't
answer my mother.
What I hated
was being a child,
having no choice about
what people I loved.

I don't love my son
the way I meant to love him.
I thought I'd be
the lover of orchids who finds
red trillium growing
in the pine shade, and doesn't
touch it, doesn't need
to possess it. What I am
is the scientist,
who comes to that flower
with a magnifying glass
and doesn't leave, though
the sun burns a brown
circle of grass around
the flower. Which is
more or less the way
my mother loved me.

I must learn
to forgive my mother,
now that I'm helpless
to spare my son.

September 9, 2009


when my head hurts i don't need a doctor to tell me why;
i know it's because there's nowhere to put it. where it's put
dissolves, and then there is my head, scorching, freezing,
dripping against a simple insistence on temporary limits.
today was just so. i felt such revulsion looking at my fries,
each one exposed so much like myself, but even needier,
trusting me, my head, belly, for shelter. There's no shelter
here, friends