Louise Gluck Biography

Poet (1943–)
Louise Glück is a poet whose work has been described as technically precise, sensitive, insightful and gripping.


From her first book of poetry, Firstborn, through her more mature work, Glück has become internationally recognized as a very skilled, perceptive author who pulls the reader into her poetry and shares the poetic experience equally with her audience. Among numerous honors, Glück was the recipient of National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in 1985 and the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1993.

Early Influences

Poet. Born April 22, 1943, in New York, New York. Louise Glück (surname pronounced Glick) creates verse that has been described as technically precise, sensitive, insightful, and gripping. In her work, Glück freely shares her most intimate thoughts on such commonly shared human experiences as love, family, relationships, and death. "Glück demands a reader's attention and commands his respect," states R. D. Spector in the Saturday Review. "Glück's poetry is intimate, familial, and what Edwin Muir has called the fable, the archetypal," adds Contemporary Women Poets contributor James K. Robinson. Within her work can be discerned the influences of poets Stanley Kunitz, with whom Glück studied while attending Columbia University in the mid-1960s, and the early work of Robert Lowell; shadows cast by the confessional poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton also haunt her earliest poetry.

Award-Winning Author

From her first book of poetry, Firstborn, through her more mature work, Glück has become internationally recognized as a very skilled, yet perceptive author who pulls the reader into her poetry and shares the poetic experience equally with her audience. Helen Vendler comments in her New Republic review of Glück's second book, 1975's The House on Marshland, that "Glück's cryptic narratives invite our participation: we must, according to the case, fill out the story, substitute ourselves for the fictive personages, invent a scenario from which the speaker can utter her lines, decode the import, 'solve' the allegory. Or such is our first impulse. Later, I think, . . . we read the poem, instead, as a truth complete within its own terms, reflecting some one of the innumerable configurations into which experience falls."

For admirers of Glück's work, the poetry in books such as, The House on Marshland, The Garden, Descending Figure, The Triumph of Achilles, Ararat, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Wild Iris take readers on an inner journey by exploring their deepest, most intimate feelings. "Glück has a gift for getting the reader to imagine with her, drawing on the power of her audience to be amazed," observes Anna Wooten in the American Poetry Review.

One reason reviewers cite for Glück's seemingly unfailing ability to capture her reader's attention is her expertise at creating poetry that many people can understand, relate to, and experience intensely and completely. Her poetic voice is uniquely distinctive and her language is deceptively straightforward. In her review of Glück's The Triumph of Achilles Wendy Lesser notes in the Washington Post Book World: "'Direct' is the operative word here: Glück's language is staunchly straightforward, remarkably close to the diction of ordinary speech. Yet her careful selection for rhythm and repetition, and the specificity of even her idiomatically vague phrases, give her poems a weight that is far from colloquial." Lesser goes on to remark that "the strength of that voice derives in large part from its self- centeredness--literally, for the words in Glück's poems seem to come directly from the center of herself."

Dark Subjects

Because Glück writes so effectively about disappointment, rejection, loss, and isolation, reviewers frequently refer to her poetry as "bleak" or "dark." For example, Deno Trakas observes in the Dictionary of Literary Biography that "Glück's poetry has few themes and few moods. Whether she is writing autobiographically or assuming a persona, at the center of every poem is an 'I' who is isolated from family, or bitter from rejected love, or disappointed with what life has to offer. Her world is bleak; however, it is depicted with a lyrical grace, and her poems are attractive if disturbing. . . . Glück's poetry, despite flaws, is remarkable for its consistently high quality." Addressing the subdued character of her verse in Nation, Don Bogen cites as Glück's "basic concerns" "betrayal, mortality, love and the sense of loss that accompanies it. . . . She is at heart the poet of a fallen world. . . . Glück's work to define that mortal part shows dignity and sober compassion." Bogen elaborates further: "Fierce yet coolly intelligent, Glück's poem disturbs not because it is idiosyncratic but because it defines something we feel yet rarely acknowledge; it strips off a veil. Glück has never been content to stop at the surfaces of things. Among the well-mannered forms, nostalgia and blurred resolutions of today's verse, the relentless clarity of her work stand out." Readers and reviewers have also marvelled at Glück's custom of creating poetry with a dreamlike quality that at the same time deals with the realities of passionate and emotional subjects. Holly Prado declares in a Los Angeles Times Book Review piece on Glück's fifth book, The Triumph of Achilles that Glück's poetry works "because she has an unmistakable voice that resonates and brings into our contemporary world the old notion that poetry and the visionary are intertwined." Prado continues to reflect: "The tone of her work is eerie, philosophical, questioning. Her poems aren't simply mystical ramblings. Far from it. They're sternly well-crafted pieces. But they carry the voice of a poet who sees, within herself, beyond the ordinary and is able to offer powerful insights, insights not to be quickly interpreted."

Diverse Abilities

"Glück's ear never fails her; she manages to be conversational and lyrical at the same time, a considerable achievement when so much contemporary poetry is lamentably prosaic," asserts Wooten in the American Poetry Review. "Her range is personal and mythical, and the particular genius of the volume rests in its fusion of both approaches, rescuing the poems from either narrow self-glorification or pedantic myopia." This mythical voice, echoing the emotional quandaries of the twentieth century, can be quickly identified in Meadowlands, Glück's ninth volume of verse, through the voices of Odysseus and Penelope. Describing the collection as "a kind of high-low rhetorical experiment in marriage studies," critic Deborah Garrison adds in the New York Times Book Review that, through the "suburban banter" between the ancient wanderer and his wife, Meadowlands "captures the way that a marriage itself has a tone, a set of shared vocal grooves inseparable from the particular personalities involved and the partial truces they've made along the way."

Looking over Glück's entire body of work, Dave Smith appraises her ability in a review of 1980's Descending Figure published in the American Poetry Review: "There are poets senior to Louise Glück who have done some better work and there are poets of her generation who have done more work. But who is writing consistently better with each book? Who is writing consistently so well at her age? Perhaps it is only my own hunger that wants her to write more, that hopes for the breakthrough poems I do not think she has yet given us. She has the chance as few ever do to become a major poet and no one can talk about contemporary American poetry without speaking of Louise Glück's accomplishment."


Among numerous honors, Glück was the recipient of the Academy of American Poets Prize from Columbia University in 1966, the Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize from Poetry magazine in 1971, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry in 1985, and the Bobbitt National Prize (with Mark Strand) from the Library of Congress in 1992. In 1993, she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, as well as the William Carlos William Award.

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