Weekend Reading
October 15, 2023

On Friday, I saw the news that poet Louise Glück had passed away.

Food writer Jeff Gordinier wrote in an Instagram post that her collection of poems, The Wild Iris, is “a book that can save your life.”

Gordinier noted that her work had been on his mind recently, even before the news of her passing reached him.

It hadn’t occurred to me to turn to Glück’s poems over the course of this heartbreaking past week. But I should have, and since Friday, I have been.

Clay Risen wrote an article about Glück for The New York Times that was published late on Friday. The headline reads, “Louise Glück, 80, Nobel-Winning Poet Who Explored Trauma and Loss, Dies.”

I loved Glück’s poetry before I really understood what trauma was. What I did know, first as a college student and then as young book editor, was that I found comfort in her work.

This might seem surprising, as Glück’s language is usually described as “austere” and her poems often characterized as being “bleak.”

This makes sense to me technically. Glück’s language is precise, and sometimes I think it can be a little merciless in its directness.

But I’ve never really thought of it as being austere. Maybe that’s because the work feels so rich to me. There’s so much meaning and profundity—so much that makes me feel—encased within each taut line.

Here are some of the lines that have stayed with me most:

“Theory and Memory”:

Long, long ago, before I was a tormented artist, afflicted with longing yet
incapable of forming durable attachments, long before this, I was a glorious
ruler uniting all of a divided country—so I was told by the fortune-teller
who examined my palm. Great things, she said, are ahead of you, or perhaps
behind you; it is difficult to be sure. And yet, she added, what is the difference?
Right now you are a child holding hands with a fortune-teller. All the
rest is hypothesis and dream.

From “Faithful and Virtuous Night”:

I think here I will leave you. It has come to seem
there is no perfect ending.
Indeed, there are infinite endings.
Or perhaps, once one begins,
there are only endings.

From “First Memory”:

…in childhood, I thought
that pain meant
I was not loved.
It meant I loved.

From “The Wild Iris”:

You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:

from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.

There are a few poems—the other ones that come to mind are Mark Doty’s “Visitation” and Adrienne Rich’s “Diving into the Wreck“—that have helped me to make sense of grief.

“The Wild Iris” is one of them.

When I read the obit yesterday, I learned that Louise Glück struggled with anorexia as a teenager. She wrote about it in her book of essays, Proofs & Theories.

Glück describes her fears around psychoanalysis, which was part of her treatment. She writes,

I was afraid of psychoanalysis in conventional ways. I thought what kept me alive, in that it gave me hope, was my ambition, my sense of vocation; I was afraid to tamper with the mechanism…

Periodically, in the course of those seven years, I’d turn to my doctor with the old accusation: He’d make me so well, so whole, I’d never write again. Finally, he silenced me; the world, he told me, will give you sorrow enough.

Her words speak honestly to the way in which ego and eating disorder can become intertwined.

The desire to be special and distinctive, the fear of identity loss that comes with recovery, even if that identity is wrapped around suffering—this is something that I think many people who have journeyed through recovery can identify with.

“Whatever returns from oblivion returns to find a voice.”

This line has always struck me as hopeful.

In many of Glück’s poems there’s an implied fluidity between between earthly life and whatever is beyond it.

I find hope in that, too.

I reread bits of The Wild Iris before I went to bed on Friday night. I had the feeling that I always get when I revisit beloved verses of poetry, which is the comfort of reconnecting with a friend.

As I checked in with some people in my life this past week, I said to a friend that I never like reaching out because something bad has happened.

She told me not to worry; she’s happy to hear from me no matter what the reason.

I feel the same way. Whether the world is giving us great sorrows or not, connection is always solace.

Thanks for letting me connect with you on Sundays. I’m sending love to you today.

I’ll be looping back with some recipes this week.

xo

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  1. Thankyou for connecting with us too Gena, sending lots of love right back at you ❤️

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