Poet Louise Glück awarded Nobel Prize in Literature

Louise Glück

American poet Louise Glück has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature to add to her Pulitzer Prize, National Humanities Medal, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle Award and Bollingen Prize.

Glück, Poet Laureate of the United States from 2003-2004, won the Nobel Prize in Literature “for her unmistakable poetic voice, that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”.

Glück is only the 16th woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature since it began in 1901.

“My first thought was ‘I won’t have any friends’, because most of my friends are writers,” she said, having just heard the news that she had been awarded the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature. “But mostly, I’m concerned with the preservation of daily life, with people I love.”

Glück suggested new readers start with any of her works “because they’re very different from one another”. But not her first book, she said, “Unless they want to feel contempt!”

The Nobel Committee on Thursday praised Glück as “candid and uncompromising” in granting a rare honour for a US poet, with Wallace Stevens, Gwendolyn Brooks and Robert Frost among her predecessors who were bypassed. She spoke briefly to reporters waiting outside her home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, saying she felt “agitation, joy, gratitude”, AP News reported.

Glück, 77, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for The Wild Iris and the National Book Award in 2014 for Faithful and Virtuous Night.

“As one of our most celebrated American poets, we are thrilled that Louise Glück has received this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature,” Michael Jacobs, chairman of the Academy of American Poets, said in a statement. “Her poems, her overall body of work, and her utterly distinctive voice present the human condition in memorable, breathtaking language.”

“Her work is thrilling and surprising; it’s both intimate and grand; she appeals to people who read only poetry and to people who read almost no poetry. It is various enough to appeal to all temperaments, often in the same poem: here is a line for the skeptic, here’s one for the pushover. If you want to know what it’s like to fall in love, to have an abortion, to have a child, to be seriously ill, to get divorced, to shop for cheese, to weed, to plant, to grieve for your parents and teachers: you can find it in Glück’s work. Her poems are anathema to easy comfort, and often seem to ban or forbid the going and conventional emotional logic. And yet people read them to know the contours of their own inner lives,” Dan Chiasson wrote in The New Yorker.

A native of New York City, descended in part from Hungarian Jews, Glück began reading poetry obsessively as a child and by her early teens, she was already trying to have her work published. She struggled with anorexia nervosa as an adolescent, later saying that her eating disorder was less an expression of despair than of her desire to free the soul from the confines of her body, a theme that later arose in her work.

Glück has drawn from both personal experience and common history and mythology, whether revisiting the final section of The Iliad in ‘Penelope’s Song’ or the abduction of Persephone in ‘Persephone’s Song’, in which she imagines Persephone “lying in the bed of Hades”:

“What is in her mind? Is she afraid? Has something blotted out the idea of mind?”

Glück’s poetry collections also include Descending Figure, Ararat and The Triumph of Achilles, winner of the National Book Critics Circle prize in 1985. It contains one of her most anthologised poems, the spare and despairing ‘Mock Orange’, in which a flowering shrub becomes the focus of a wider wail of anguish about sex and life: “How can I rest? How can I be content when there is still that odour in the world?”

Glück’s legacy extends beyond her own work. Currently dividing her time between Yale University and Stanford University, she has called teaching one of the few pure joys of her life and has mentored many younger poets, including Claudia Rankine, author of the acclaimed Citizen and a current work Just Us. Rankine, who studied under Glück at Williams College and is now a colleague at Yale, praised her as “incredible” teacher who valued the work above all.

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