The Acid Tongue
Logan rounds on a luckless Glück
Selected By Cyril Wong
Described by Slate magazine as "the most hated man in American poetry . . .[and] its guiltiest pleasure," William Logan is a poet and reviewer who returned recently to ravage the latest poetry collection—"far from her most interesting or most characteristic book"—by Louise Glück; the latter is one of the darkest poets to have ever been chosen for the poet laureate post in the States. Logan begins his piece on Glück's collection A Village Life in the New York Times of 27 August 2009 by locating Glück's place in the tradition of the confessionals:
Even before the unknown versifier of Isaiah, poets probably looked at a lush meadow and saw a graveyard. Louise Glück's wary, pinch-mouthed poems have long represented the logical outcome of a certain strain of confessional verse — starved of adjectives, thinned to a nervous set of verbs, intense almost past bearing, her poems have been dark, damaged and difficult to avert your gaze from.
A "certain strain of confessional verse" is certainly vague, considering there are so many confessional poets in the states who write nothing like Glück. (Glück herself has been known to react, in interviews, against being labelled confessional.) And Logan has a preference for poets who dare to reinvent themselves, as revealed in the next section:
Poets, being creatures of routine, tend to settle into a style sometime in their 30s and plow those acres as if they'd been cleared by their fathers' fathers' fathers. Read a poet's second or third book and you will see the style of his dotage. Poets restless in their forms, unwilling to take yesterday's truth as gospel, are as rare as a blue rose; and rarer still are poets like Eliot, Lowell and Geoffrey Hill, who have convincingly changed their styles midcareer.
Clearly Glück, as suggested later in his review, fails to do an Eliot or a Lowell:
"A Village Life" is a subversive departure for a poet used to meaning more than she can say. All these years that Glück has been writing her stark, emaciated verse, there has been an inner short-story writer itching to break out. (The publicity optimistically refers to the new style as "novelistic"; but there is no novel here, only patches of long-windedness.) The lines are long, the poems sputtering on, sometimes for pages, until they finally run out of gas, as if they were the first drafts of a torpid afternoon. Even so, there's a faith in speech, as well as a generosity of instinct, apparent in these laggardly lines, though the reader may be forgiven for thinking that some charities are impositions.
Dislike is more forthrightly expressed when Logan writes:
QLRS Vol. 9 No. 1 Jan 2010
Perhaps I'm not the only reader who finds Glück hilarious, in a ghoulish way — like a stand-up vampire... This is a fantasy village, of course, this village of Glück's. There are cars and movies and television, so it isn't medieval, however timeless the attitudes; but the world of cellphones, iPods and computers has passed it by… a poem may contain rain, sea, clouds, sheep, a mountain, yet you learn little beyond the naked nouns. When a simile comes along, it's as if she had declared a public holiday (I'd max out my credit card for a few adjectives)…It's good to see a poet old enough to draw Social Security making new contracts with the language. Unfortunately, Glück doesn't yet have control of these long measures — the lines are slack, the fictions drowsy and the moments of heightened attention like oases in a broad desert (the poems don't argue, they merely accumulate). Without the energies of her short lines and sharply drawn moods, she turns out to have an imagination almost as conventional as anyone else's.