Reading from a body of work spanning 40 years, Louise Glück, the new poet laureate consultant in poetry, took office at the Library on Oct. 21.
Glück (pronounced Glick), read in the Montpelier Room to a standing-room-only crowd of more than 250 people.
In his introduction, Librarian James H. Billington noted Glück's propensity for silence, or the unsaid, quoting from her collection of essays, "Proofs and Theories": "'I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. … It seems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries.'"
"We hope she will not dwell too much in deliberate silence this evening," said Billington. He recalled the first time he had ever read a poem. His father sat him down and said, "Read this. It is the best poem in the English language," and opened to Keats' "Ode on a Grecian Urn."
Billington said that the line, "Thou foster-child of Silence and slow Time" is a good description of libraries. "Poetry dwells there, and launches us back into that world," he said, and invited the 12th poet laureate to the podium.
Glück read her poems in a tough, strong voice and seemed moved by the extended applause at the end.
Beginning with new work, she read from a poem titled "Prism": "Who can say what the world is? The world / is in flux, therefore / unreadable, the winds shifting, / the great plates invisibly shifting and changing. …"
The poem concerns the myths of romantic love, and its 20 short sections approach their subject from a multiplicity of angles.
She then turned to early work, beginning with "Cottonmouth Country," a poem from her first book, "Firstborn." She went on to read selections from several of her books. From "The Triumph of Achilles" she read "Mock Orange," which wrestles with the power of eros. From "The Wild Iris" she read "The Silver Lily." From "Meadowlands," she chose "Telemachus' Guilt," one of a number of poems spoken by Telemachus, whose subject is the marriage of his parents, Odysseus and Penelope.
She ended with two poems written after September 11, 2001. The first, "Landscape," observes: "It was a time / governed by contradictions, as in / I felt nothing and / I was afraid. … All your life, you wait for the propitious time. / Then the propitious time / reveals itself as action taken."
Closing with the second, "October," a six-part meditation on terror and its aftermath, she read: "I can finally say / long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure. Beauty / the healer, the teacher — / death cannot harm me / more than you have harmed me, / my beloved life."
Glück is the author of nine books of poetry. Her work has received much praise and recognition, including the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Boston Globe Literary Press Award, and the Poetry Society of America's Melville Kane Award, all given for "The Triumph of Achilles" (1985).
The second Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry at the Library was awarded to Glück for "Ararat" (1990) in 1992. For "The Wild Iris" (1992) she received the Pulitzer Prize, and for "Vita Nova" (1999) The New Yorker magazine's Readers Award. In 2001, just prior to publication of "The Seven Ages," Glück received the biennial Bollingen Prize, awarded by Yale.
This year she was appointed judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, a position she will hold through 2007. On Feb. 24-25, 2004, she plans to bring together a select group of young writers for two readings and a workshop at the Library. She will speak here again in May 2004 and said that additional plans for her laureateship are still unfolding.
Yvonne French, senior writer-editor in the Office of the Librarian, contributed to this report.