The 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to the American poet Louise Glück “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”.
The American poet Louise Glück was born in 1943 in New York and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Apart from her writing, she is a professor of English at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. She made her debut in 1968 with Firstborn and was soon acclaimed as one of the most prominent poets in American contemporary literature. She has received several prestigious awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize (1993) and the National Book Award (2014).
Louise Glück has published twelve collections of poetry and some volumes of essays on poetry. All are characterized by a striving for clarity. Childhood and family life, the close relationship with parents and siblings, is a thematic that has remained central with her. In her poems, the self listens for what is left of its dreams and delusions, and nobody can be harder than she in confronting the illusions of the self.
But even if Glück would never deny the significance of the autobiographical background, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. Glück seeks the universal, and in this she takes inspiration from myths and classical motifs, present in most of her works. The voices of Dido, Persephone and Eurydice – the abandoned, the punished, the betrayed – are masks for a self in transformation, as personal as it is universally valid.
With collections like The Triumph of Achilles (1985) and Ararat (1990) Glück found a growing audience in USA and abroad. In Ararat three characteristics unite to subsequently recur in her writing: the topic of family life; austere intelligence; and a refined sense of composition that marks the book as a whole. Glück has also pointed out that in these poems she realized how to employ ordinary diction in her poetry. The deceptively natural tone is striking. We encounter almost brutally straightforward images of painful family relations. It is candid and uncompromising, with no trace of poetic ornament.
It reveals much about her own poetry when in her essays Glück cites the urgent tone in Eliot, the art of inward listening in Keats or the voluntary silence in George Oppen. But in her own severity and unwillingness to accept simple tenets of faith she resembles more than any other poet, Emily Dickinson.
Louise Glück is not only engaged by the errancies and shifting conditions of life, she is also a poet of radical change and rebirth, where the leap forward is made from a deep sense of loss. In one of her most lauded collections, The Wild Iris (1992), for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, she describes the miraculous return of life after winter in the poem ”Snowdrops”: