blacktitle.jpg (12329 bytes)


Glück on Simple Language in Poetry

Louise Glück: from "Education of the Poet"

[This autobiographical essay is the essential starting point for a deeper appreciation of Glück. Not only does she provide information about her family background but she links that background to her own decision to become a poet. She cites one of her earliest poems, and she ends by explaining the influence of Stanley Kunitz as a mentor. In the paragraph excerpted here, she defends her unconventional sense of what constitutes effective poetic language.]

The axiom is that the mark of poetic intelligence or vocation is passion for language, which is thought to mean delirious response to language’s smallest communicative unit: to the word. The poet is supposed to be the person who can’t get enough of words like "incarnadine." This was not my experience. From the time, at four or five or six, I first started reading poems, first thought of the poets I read as my companions, my predecessors – from the beginning I preferred the simplest vocabulary. What fascinated me were the possibilities of context. What I responded to, on the page, was the way a poem could liberate, by means of a word’s setting, through subtleties of timing, of pacing, that word’s full and surprising range of meaning. It seemed to me that simple language best suited this enterprise; such language, in being generic, is likely to contain the greatest and most dramatic variety of meaning within individual words. I liked scale, but I liked it invisible. I loved those poems that seemed so small on the page but that swelled in the mind; I didn’t like the windy, dwindling kind. Not surprisingly, the sort of sentence I was drawn to, which reflected these tastes and native habit of mind, was paradox, which has the added advantage of nicely rescuing the dogmatic nature from a too moralizing rhetoric.

From Louise Glück, "Education of the Poet," Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry (New York: Ecco, 1994) 4-5. Copyright 1994 by Louise Glück.

Return to Louise Glück