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A Village Life


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About the Author

Louise Gluck was born in 1943 in New York and grew up on Long Island. She started her teaching career in 1971 at Goddard College, Vermont. At present she is a Professor at Williams College and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is the author of seven collections of poems and a volume of essays. She has won the Pulitzer Prize (for Wild Iris in 1992), the National Book Critics Circle Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, the Bobbitt National Poetry Prize and the Ambassador's Award for her poetry, as well as the PEN / Martha Albrand Award for Non-fiction. Her 2000 collection Vita Nova won the first annual New Yorker Readers Award. Louise Gluck is also a former US Poet Laureate.


Pulitzer Prize-winner Gluck's 11th collection is set in an unidentified rural hill town somewhere in the Mediterranean. Less narrative than it is impressionistic, the book takes its undulating shape from natural cycles-the obvious but nonetheless awesome impact of days and seasons changing. Gluck has shown herself to be an astute, heartbreaking and often funny observer of everyday violence. In poems like "At the River" and "Marriage," she tracks life's messy movement from innocence and curiosity through lust, loss, anger and resignation. However, the relationships she studies are as much to the land-with its single, looming mountain, worked fields and increasingly dried-up river-as between individuals. Gluck's achievement in this collection is to show, through the exigencies of the place she has chosen, how interpersonal relationships are formed, shaped and broken by the particular landscape in which they unfurl. Though the poems are intimate and deeply sympathetic, there remains the suggestion of a distance between Gluck and the village life she writes about. When she declaims, "No one really understands/ the savagery of this place," it feels as though she is speaking less about her chosen subjects than about herself. (Sept.) Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

What makes a great poem? Voice, as former U.S. poet laureate Gluck said in Proofs & Theories, her 1994 essay collection; poems will not survive on content alone. The Wild Iris, which received the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 and established Gluck as a poet to be reckoned with, offers a telling example of the mesmerizing power of voice. Unfortunately, only a few of the poems in this 11th collection could be called mesmerizing. Written from the outside looking in, the poems concern love, courtship, sexual liaisons, birth, and death as experienced by ordinary inhabitants of a nameless village, as well as the earthworms, bats, dogs, and mice that co-inhabit the place. A first-person narrator holds the poems together and gives the collection its somewhat bleak focus. VERDICT Readers will be reminded of Edgar Lee Masters's Spoon River Anthology, especially as the poet notes the underlying "savagery of this place,/ the way it kills people for no reason." But instead of presenting an insightful portrait brimming with irony Ø la Masters, Gluck's poetry seems more like a quick sketch. Recommended for those who read poetry extensively.-Diane Scharper, Towson Univ., MD Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

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