Glück is often described as an autobiographical poet; her work is known for its emotional intensity and for frequently drawing on myth, history, or nature to meditate on personal experiences and modern life. She was born in New York City and raised on Long Island. She began to suffer from anorexia nervosa while in high school and later overcame the illness. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University but did not obtain a degree. In addition to being an author, she has taught poetry at several academic institutions.
In her work, Glück has focused on illuminating aspects of trauma, desire, and nature. In exploring these broad themes, her poetry has become known for its frank expressions of sadness and isolation. Scholars have also focused on her construction of poetic personas and the relationship, in her poems, between autobiography and classical myth.
Louise Glück was born in New York City on April 22, 1943. She is the elder of two surviving daughters of Daniel Glück, a businessman, and Beatrice Glück (née Grosby), a homemaker.
Glück's mother was of Russian-Jewish descent, while her paternal grandparents, Hungarian Jews, emigrated to the United States before her father was born, and they eventually owned a grocery store in New York. Glück's father had an ambition to become a writer, but went into business with his brother-in-law. Together, they achieved success when they invented the X-Acto knife. Glück's mother was a graduate of Wellesley College. In her childhood, her parents taught her Greek mythology and classic stories such as the life of Joan of Arc. She began to write poetry at an early age.
As a teenager, Glück developed anorexia nervosa, which became the defining challenge of her late teenage and young adult years. She has described the illness, in one essay, as the result of an effort to assert her independence from her mother. Elsewhere, she has connected her illness to the death of an elder sister, an event that occurred before she was born. During the fall of her senior year at George W. Hewlett High School, in Hewlett, New York, she began psychoanalytic treatment. A few months later, she was taken out of school in order to focus on her rehabilitation, although she still graduated in 1961. Of that decision, she has written, "I understood that at some point I was going to die. What I knew more vividly, more viscerally, was that I did not want to die". She spent the next seven years in therapy, which she has credited with helping her to overcome the illness and teaching her how to think.
As a result of her condition, Glück did not enroll in college as a full-time student. She has described her decision to forgo higher education in favor of therapy as necessary: "…my emotional condition, my extreme rigidity of behavior and frantic dependence on ritual made other forms of education impossible". Instead, she took a poetry class at Sarah Lawrence College and, from 1963 to 1966, she enrolled in poetry workshops at Columbia University's School of General Studies, which offered a degree program for non-traditional students. While there, she studied with Léonie Adams and Stanley Kunitz. She has credited these teachers as significant mentors in her development as a poet.
After leaving Columbia without a degree, Glück supported herself with secretarial work. She married Charles Hertz Jr. in 1967. The marriage ended in divorce. In 1968, Glück published her first collection of poems, Firstborn, which received some positive critical attention. However, she then experienced a prolonged case of writer's block, which was only cured, she has said, after 1971, when she began to teach poetry at Goddard College in Vermont. The poems she wrote during this time were collected in her second book, The House on Marshland (1975), which many critics have regarded as her breakthrough work, signaling her "discovery of a distinctive voice".
In 1973, Glück gave birth to a son, Noah, with her partner John Dranow, an author who had started the summer writing program at Goddard College. In 1977, she and Dranow were married. In 1980, Dranow and Francis Voigt, the husband of poet Ellen Bryant Voigt, co-founded the New England Culinary Institute as a private, for-profit college. Glück and Bryant Voigt were early investors in the institute and served on its board of directors.
In 1980, Glück's third collection, Descending Figure was published. It received some criticism for its tone and subject matter: for example, the poet Greg Kuzma accused Glück of being a "child hater" for her now widely anthologized poem, "The Drowned Children". On the whole, however, the book was well received. In the same year, a fire destroyed Glück's house in Vermont, resulting in the loss of all of her possessions.
In the wake of that tragedy, Glück began to write the poems that would later be collected in her award-winning work, The Triumph of Achilles (1985). Writing in The New York Times, the author and critic Liz Rosenberg described the collection as "clearer, purer, and sharper" than Glück's previous work. The critic Peter Stitt, writing in The Georgia Review, declared that the book showed Glück to be "among the important poets of our age". From the collection, the poem "Mock Orange", which has been likened to a feminist anthem, has been called an "anthology piece" for how frequently it has appeared in poetry anthologies and college courses.
In 1984, Glück joined the faculty of Williams College in Massachusetts as a senior lecturer in the English Department. The following year, her father died. The loss prompted her to begin a new collection of poems, Ararat (1990), the title of which references the mountain of the Genesis flood narrative. Writing in The New York Times in 2012, the critic Dwight Garner called it "the most brutal and sorrow-filled book of American poetry published in the last 25 years". Glück followed this collection with one of her most popular and critically acclaimed books, The Wild Iris (1992), which, in its poems, features garden flowers in conversation with a gardener and a deity about the nature of life. Publishers Weekly proclaimed it an "important book" that showcased "poetry of great beauty". The critic Elizabeth Lund, writing in TheChristian Science Monitor, called it "a milestone work". It went on to win the Pulitzer Prize in 1993, cementing Glück's reputation as a preeminent American poet.
While the 1990s brought Glück literary success, it was also a period of personal hardship. Her marriage to John Dranow ended in divorce, the difficult nature of which affected their business relationship, resulting in Dranow's removal from his positions at the New England Culinary Institute. Glück channeled her experience into her writing, entering a prolific period of her career. In 1994, she published a collection of essays called Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry. She then produced Meadowlands (1996), a collection of poetry about the nature of love and the deterioration of a marriage. She followed it with two more collections: Vita Nova (1999) and The Seven Ages (2001).
In 2004, in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Glück published a book-length poem entitled October. Divided into six parts, the poem draws on ancient Greek myth to explore aspects of trauma and suffering. That same year, she was named the Rosenkranz Writer in Residence at Yale University.
Since joining the faculty of Yale, Glück has continued to publish poetry. Her books published during this period include Averno (2006), A Village Life (2009), and Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014). In 2012, the publication of a collection of a half-century's worth of her poems, entitled Poems: 1962–2012, was called "a literary event". Another collection of her essays, entitled American Originality, appeared in 2017.
In October 2020, Glück was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, becoming the sixteenth female literature laureate since the prize was founded in 1901.
Glück's elder sister died young before Glück was born. Her younger sister, Tereze (1945–2018), worked at Citibank as a vice president and was also a writer, winning the Iowa Short Fiction Award in 1995 for her book May You Live in Interesting Times. Glück's niece is the actress Abigail Savage.
Glück's work has been, and continues to be, the subject of academic study. Her papers, including manuscripts, correspondence, and other materials, are housed at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
Glück is best known for lyric poems of linguistic precision and austere tone. The poet Craig Morgan Teicher has described her as a writer for whom "words are always scarce, hard won, and not to be wasted". The scholar Laura Quinney has argued that her careful use of words has put Glück into "the line of American poets who value fierce lyric compression," from Emily Dickinson to Elizabeth Bishop. Glück's poems rarely use rhyme, instead relying on repetition, enjambment, and other techniques to achieve rhythm.
Among scholars and reviewers, there has been discussion as to whether Glück is properly assessed as a confessional poet, owing to the prevalence of the first-person mode in her poems and their intimate subject matter, often inspired by events in Glück's personal life. The scholar Robert Baker has argued that Glück "is surely a confessional poet in some basic sense," while the critic Michael Robbins has argued that Glück's poetry, unlike that of confessional poets Sylvia Plath or John Berryman, "depends upon the fiction of privacy". In other words, she cannot be a confessional poet, Robbins argues, if she does not address an audience. Going further, Quinney argues that, to Glück, the confessional poem is "odious". Others have noted that Glück's poems can be viewed as autobiographical, while her technique of using mythology and inhabiting various personas renders her poems more than mere confessions. As the scholar Helen Vendler has noted: "In their obliquity and reserve, [Glück's poems] offer an alternative to first-person 'confession', while remaining indisputably personal".
While Glück's work is thematically diverse, scholars and critics have identified several themes that are paramount. Most prominently, Glück's poetry can be said to be focused on trauma, as she has written throughout her career about death, loss, rejection, the failure of relationships, and attempts at healing and renewal. The scholar Daniel Morris notes that even a Glück poem that uses traditionally happy or idyllic imagery "suggests the author's awareness of mortality, of the loss of innocence". The scholar Joanne Feit Diehl echoes this notion when she argues that "this 'sense of an ending'… infuses Glück's poems with their retrospective power", pointing to her transformation of common objects, such as a baby stroller, into representations of loneliness and loss. Yet, for Glück, trauma is arguably a gateway to a greater appreciation of life, a concept perhaps most obviously explored in The Triumph of Achilles. The triumph to which the title alludes is Achilles' acceptance of mortality—which enables him to become a more fully realized human being.
The relationship between the opposing forces of life and death in Glück's work points to another of her common themes: desire. Glück has often written explicitly about many forms of desire—for example, the desire for love and attention, for insight, or for the ability to convey truth—but her approach to desire is marked by ambivalence. Morris argues that Glück's poems, which often adopt contradictory points of view, reflect "her own ambivalent relationship to status, power, morality, gender, and, most of all, language". The author Robert Boyer has characterized Glück's ambivalence toward desire as a result of "strenuous self-interrogation". He argues that "Glück's poems at their best have always moved between recoil and affirmation, sensuous immediacy and reflection … for a poet who can often seem earthbound and defiantly unillusioned, she has been powerfully responsive to the lure of the daily miracle and the sudden upsurge of overmastering emotion". The tension between competing desires in Glück's work manifests both in her assumption of different personas from poem to poem and in her varied approach to each collection of her poems. This has led the poet and scholar James Longenbach to declare that "change is Louise Glück's highest value" and "if change is what she most craves, it is also what she most resists, what is most difficult for her, most hard-won".
Another of Glück's poetic preoccupations is nature, the setting for many of her poems. Famously, in The Wild Iris, the poems take place in a garden where flowers have intelligent, emotive voices. However, Morris points out that The House on Marshland is also concerned with nature and can be read as a revision of the Romantic tradition of nature poetry. In Ararat, too, "flowers become a language of mourning," useful for both commemoration and competition among mourners to determine the "ownership of nature as a meaningful system of symbolism". Thus, in Glück's work nature is both something to be regarded critically and embraced. As the author and critic Alan Williamson has pointed out, it can also sometimes suggest the divine, as when, in the poem "Celestial Music", the speaker states that "when you love the world you hear celestial music", or when, in The Wild Iris, the deity speaks through changes in weather.
Thematically, Glück's poetry is also notable for what it avoids. Morris argues that "Glück's writing most often evades ethnic identification, religious classification, or gendered affiliation. In fact, her poetry often negates critical assessments that affirm identity politics as criteria for literary evaluation. She resists canonization as a hyphenated poet (that is, as a "Jewish-American" poet, or a "feminist" poet, or a "nature" poet), preferring instead to retain an aura of iconoclasm, or in-betweenness".
Glück has pointed to the influence of psychoanalysis on her work, as well as her early learning in ancient legends, parables, and mythology. In addition, she has credited the influence of Léonie Adams and Stanley Kunitz. Scholars and critics have pointed to the literary influence on her work of Robert Lowell,Rainer Maria Rilke, and Emily Dickinson, among others.
National Book Award for Faithful and Virtuous Night (2014)
In addition, The Wild Iris, Vita Nova, and Averno were all finalists for the National Book Award.The Seven Ages was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.A Village Life was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Griffin International Poetry Prize.
Glück's poems have been widely anthologized, including in the Norton Anthology of Poetry, the Oxford Book of American Poetry, and the Columbia Anthology of American Poetry.
Elected or invited posts
In 1999, Glück, along with the poets Rita Dove and W. S. Merwin, was asked to serve as a special consultant to the Library of Congress for that institution's bicentennial. In this capacity, she helped the Library of Congress to determine programming to mark its 200th anniversary celebration. In 1999, she was also elected Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, a post she held until 2005. In 2003, she was appointed the final judge of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, a position she held until 2010. The Yale Series is the oldest annual literary competition in the United States, and during her time as judge, she selected for publication works by the poets Peter Streckfus and Fady Joudah, among others.
^Azcuy, Mary Kate (2011), "Persona, Trauma and Survival in Louise Glück's Postmodern, Mythic, Twenty-First-Century 'October'", Crisis and Contemporary Poetry, Palgrave Macmillan UK, pp. 33–49, doi:10.1057/9780230306097_3, ISBN978-0-230-30609-7