Unusual Louise Gluck: A Contemporary Woman Poet

I first heard of Gluck when she won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2020. Here are two poems by her. The first is a revisioning of the Sisyphean myth.

The Mountain

My students look at me expectantly.

I explain to them that the life of art is a life

of endless labor. Their expressions

hardly change; they need to know

a little more about endless labor.

So I tell them the story of Sisyphus,

how he was doomed to push

a rock up a mountain, knowing nothing

would come of this effort

but that he would repeat it

indefinitely. I tell them

there is joy in this, in the artist’s life,

that one eludes

judgment, and as I speak

I am secretly pushing a rock myself,

slyly pushing it up the steep

face of a mountain. Why do I lie

to these children? They aren’t listening,

they aren’t deceived, their fingers

tapping at the wooden desks—

So I retract

the myth; I tell them it occurs

in hell, and that the artist lies

because he is obsessed with attainment,

that he perceives the summit

as that place where he will live forever,

a place about to be

transformed by his burden: with every breath,

I am standing at the top of the mountain.

Both my hands are free. And the rock has added

height to the mountain.

This poem by Gluck retells Hansel and Gretel from Gretel’s point of view.

Gretel in Darkness

This is the world we wanted.

All who would have seen us dead

are dead. I hear the witch’s cry

break in the moonlight through a sheet

of sugar: God rewards.

Her tongue shrivels into gas . . .

Now, far from women’s arms

and memory of women, in our father’s hut

we sleep, are never hungry.

Why do I not forget?

My father bars the door, bars harm

from this house, and it is years.

No one remembers. Even you, my brother,

summer afternoons you look at me as though

you meant to leave,

as though it never happened.

But I killed for you. I see armed firs,

the spires of that gleaming kiln—

Nights I turn to you to hold me

but you are not there.

Am I alone? Spies

hiss in the stillness, Hansel,

we are there still and it is real, real,

that black forest and the fire in earnest.

Gluck’s poems draw on myth and are oblique, but rewarding.

This post is a part of #BlogchatterA2Z Challenge 2023.

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