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Glück On "the Unsaid" in Poetry

from "Disruption, Hesitation, Silence"

[In this meditative essay, Glück defends in more detail the aesthetics of paradox and simple language that she had earlier sketched in "Education of the Poet." In this more developed presentation, that aesthetics is rooted in a sense of a work of art as provocatively unfinished. The artists Glück discusses – the poets include Rilke, Berryman, Oppen and Eliot – are, as she demonstrates, practitioners of "not saying," of leaving out so as to suggest.]

What I share with [poets in my generation] is ambition; what I dispute is its definition. I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent, deliberate silence. The unsaid, for me, exerts great power: often I wish an entire poem could be made in this vocabulary. It is analogous to the unseen for example, to the power of ruins, to works of art either damaged or incomplete. Such works inevitably allude to larger contexts; they haunt because they are not whole, though wholeness is implied: another time, a world in which they were whole, or were to have been whole, is implied. There is no moment in which their first home is felt to be the museum. … It seems to me that what is wanted, in art, is to harness the power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial. Not simply because it is subjective, but because that which we do not know, of the universe, of mortality, is so much more vast than that which we do know. What is unfinished or has been destroyed participates in these mysteries. The problem is to make a whole that does not forfeit this power.

From Louise Glück, "Disruption, Hesitation, Silence," Proofs & Theories: Essays on Poetry (New York: Ecco, 1994) 74-75. Copyright 1994 by Louise Glück.

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