Louise Gluck: Poet Of Quotidian Femininity


In my most recent post, I wrote of the “subterranean” themes of Distance, Isolation, and Death that run beneath the proesy of Louise Gluck.  Today, I want to briefly talk about the other side of Gluck’s work, the more overt, voluminous, and quotidian side that I am, frankly, not much drawn to.

Although Gluck is one of my favorite contemporary writers of proesy, generally, I must say that I find most of her work too superficial.  Often the passages feel like diary-entry exercises prescribed by her analyst to help the writer work through her daddy issues and mommy problems.

Gluck’s work is largely centered on the Family and on Nature.

Gluck’s perspective on the Family is, naturally enough, feminine, her point of view being almost invariably that of the daughter, sister, girlfriend, wife, or mother.  Most of what one might call the participating characters inhabiting her work are also females:  grandmother, mother, aunt, sister.  When she writes of men, they are often dead or absent, and always found occupying a role defined by its relation to the female:  father, lover, husband, son.

When Gluck writes of Nature in her early works, descriptions of life on the seacoast predominate.  As time moves forward, she writes of God and gardening, and then finally, in her old age, she is doing little more than giving the weather report.

In several periods, Gluck attempts to co-opt Greek mythology into her pieces; it doesn’t work.

Following Gluck’s output chronologically, there are definitely some periods I prefer to others.  I felt she suffered through a drought of good works from about 1992 through 1996, during which time not much of depth and lasting merit was produced.  Around 1996, attempts at humor increase for awhile, but nothing particularly funny emerges.  For instance, at one point she writes a passage about discussing ethics with the cat.  That’s cute, but great art it ain’t.

Starting around 1999, Gluck begins to inject numerous questions into her work—questions which are often rhetorical or asked of herself.  These, cumulatively, become annoying.

In 2001, though Gluck is well into her advanced years, a new physicality enters her work, sometimes sensual.  I found that this new approach injected a vitality that had been missing for awhile.

In 2006, Gluck’s experiments with extreme sentence fragmentation (sometimes writing lines only two words long) reached their peak— actually their nadir, in terms of literary worth.  Leaving all that space was little more than a terrible waste of paper.  And the stilted style of writing she employed during this period made her output seem like particularly boring children’s stories.

By 2009, Gluck is basically writing little more than mini-essays and mundane journal entries.  A few more bedtime stories are also thrown in.

I think Gluck has written a couple of poems that would make good anthology candidates; those are:

Earthworm (the first one), and


Also good is the poem Mock Orange.

Other whole poems of Gluck’s I enjoyed were:


The Drowned Children

Earthworm (#2)

The Dream Of Mourning

Seated Figure

The Return, and



more Hammering Shield on Gluck:

Louise Gluck: Songs Of Innocence And Experience



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