Louise Gluck’s poetry has been honored in just about every way imaginable: The Pulitzer Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s William Carlos Williams Award for The Wild Iris (1993); the Academy of American Poets prize for Firstborn (1968); the New Yorker’s Book Award in Poetry for Meadowlands (1996). And then there are the awards and honors from the National Book Critics Circle, the Library of Congress, the Boston Globe, the Poetry Society of America, PEN, Yale and Wellesley, to mention only a few. She was named poet laureate of the United States in 2003. Gluck has published 12 individual books of poetry, one collection and a book of essays.
A Village Life is Gluck’s latest book of poetry, published in September. It is about the life and lives in an unnamed Mediterranean village. The poems are simple, personal and cover the range of village experience. While they are not narrative poems per se, they are stories – Gluck tells wonderful stories in poetic form.
At the same time as the sun’s setting,
a farm worker’s burning leaves.
It’s nothing, this fire.
It’s a small thing, controlled,
like a family run by a dictator.
Still, when it blazes up, the farm worker disappears;
from the road, he’s invisible.
Compared to the sun, all the fires here
are short-lived, amateurish –
they end when the leaves are gone.
Then the farm worker reappears, raking the ashes.
But the death is real.
As though the sun’s done what it came to do,
made the field grow, then
inspired the burning of earth.
So it can set now.
Farm workers, shop owners, the elderly, café conversations, cats let out at night, teenagers falling in love at a picnic, a Christmas dance – such are the stories Gluck tells, simply and elegantly.