Louise Glück: American Poet & Nobel Laureate

Image Credit: Laoise Tarrant

Anna Blackburn discusses the inspiring work of Louise Glück, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature.

Each year the Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded to "the person who shall have produced in the field of literature the most outstanding work in an ideal direction". On October 8th, Louise Glück was honoured with the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2020 at age 77 “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”.  

American poet and essayist Louise Glück was born in April 1943 in New York and grew up on Long Island. She is currently an adjunct Professor of English and Rosenkranz Writer-in-Residence at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, in the United States. Glück has won many awards and grants for her outstanding work in poetry and was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2003-2004. She was also appointed a Chancellor for the American Academy of Poets in 1999 and held the position for six years. 

Glück’s most noteworthy awards include the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for The Wild Iris (1992) and the National Book Award for Poetry for Faithful and Virtuous Nights (2014), both collections of poetry. In addition to these, Glück was presented with the National Humanities Medal by former President of the United States, Barack Obama, in 2015. Since then, she has continued to win awards and most recently has received the title of Nobel Laureate upon her presentation for the Nobel Prize in Literature this past October. She is only the third American woman to have received this award, after Toni Morrison in 1993 and Pearl S. Buck in 1938. 

Firstborn, her debut collection of poetry, was published in 1968 when she was only 25 years old. She subsequently published twelve collections of poetry including The Wild Iris (1992), Averno (2006), and Poems 1962-2012 (2012); multiple chapbooks; and several volumes of personal essays: Proofs and Theories (1994) and, her most recent publication, American Originality: Essays on Poetry (2017). 

The value in any piece of writing comes from the heart of the author and is sustained through the impact their work has had on others.

The first two lines of her poem “Telescope” read: “There is a moment after you move your eye away/when you forget where you are”. On the surface, this poem is about feeling far away and small in a vast universe, but her poem, and this quote in particular, are a reflection on her own work. Glück’s poetry is so relatable and engaging that the first line of nearly all her poems creates an instantaneous emotional connection with the reader. It pulls you in from the start and envelops you with a sense of familiarity shared between Glück and the reader. You are able to lose yourself so completely in her colloquial diction and subtly complex settings that her work transforms you into the unnamed subject of every poem. 

There is no one way to describe her poetry, but what connects all of her work is the immortality created through the way: “she engages exquisite sensitivity in timeless topics such as isolation, relationships, and confrontation with death” (Nobel Prize). Her poetry is raw, real, and matures alongside her. One of her collections, The Wild Iris, published in 1992, personifies a garden of flowers which individually represent the differentiating factors of life brought together by similar human experiences, like that of isolation and personal relationships. Then, in one of her later collections, The Village Life (2009), she more directly considers the concept of death and leaving this world in “Crossroads”: “My body, now that we will not be traveling together much longer”. Upon the realisation of her own age, she then reflects on the life she has lived. Much of her work has been categorised as auto-biographical, and although this has not been confirmed by the poet herself, the Chairman of the Nobel Committee, Anders Olsson, wrote: “In her poems, the self listens for what is left of its dreams and delusions, and nobody can be harder than she in confronting the illusions of the self. But even if Glück would never deny the significance of the autobiographical background, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet”.

There is no doubt that Louise Glück is well-deserving of this incredible award. She has dedicated her life to her work, and her poems continue to inspire people of all ages around the world and will continue to do so for a very long time.