Poetry Wednesday – Louise Glück

This is what poets.org has to say about Louise Glück: “[She] is a poet of strong and haunting presence. Her poems, published in a series of memorable books over the last twenty years, have achieved the unusual distinction of being neither “confessional” nor “intellectual” in the usual senses of those words” (Helen Vendler).  I tried to put something along those lines into my own words, but it just didn’t sound as good, so I let Vendler do the talking for me.  I had a bad day yesterday and this poem spoke to that frustration.  It is deceptively simplistic and haunting, to repeat Vendler’s assessment.

October (Section 1)

Is it winter again, is it cold again,
didn’t Frank just slip on the ice,
didn’t he heal, weren’t the spring seeds planted

didn’t the night end,
didn’t the melting ice
flood the narrow gutters

wasn’t my body
rescued, wasn’t it safe

didn’t the scar form, invisible
above the injury

terror and cold,
didn’t they just end, wasn’t the back garden
harrowed and planted–

I remember how the earth felt, red and dense,
in stiff rows, weren’t the seeds planted,
didn’t vines climb the south wall

I can’t hear your voice
for the wind’s cries, whistling over the bare ground

I no longer care
what sound it makes

when was I silenced, when did it first seem
pointless to describe that sound
what it sounds like can’t change what it is–

didn’t the night end, wasn’t the earth
safe when it was planted

didn’t we plant the seeds,
weren’t we necessary to the earth,

the vines, were they harvested?

What immediately strikes me about this poem are two things: 1) the progression and 2) the structure.   First, the progression of the poem from a seemingly incredulous tone about the passage of time (a common theme in the poems that are appealing to me lately) to something larger and somewhat more sinister.  I love the confusion of body and earth that happens toward the middle of the poem.  Every line here can be read as simply a discussion of the changing of the seasons, but it is also obviously more than that.  There is oppression in this poem, a kind of suffocation between what is said and what is not said, literally (“I can’t hear your voice[…]//I no longer care/what sound it makes//when was I silenced”) and also within the poem itself.  There is a lot left unsaid here and a lot left up to interpretation.  I’m also very intrigued by the fact that every single line is a question, but there are no questions in this poem.  Instead every line is declarative, adding to the frustrated and angry tone.

The other interesting thing about this poem is that it is part of a series, but I have not read the rest of the series.  We talk about this a lot in class, when writing a series, how important is it to maintain stand-alone quality to the poem?  I think that there is a lot of information that could be gained from reading the other poems in the series, but there is also a wonderful ambiguity when it is alone.

What do you think of Louise Glück’s poem “October (Section I)”?  Are you intrigued or put off by the ambiguity?

4 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday – Louise Glück

  1. Definitely intrigued by this poem.I don’t think I’ve read much of Gluck before. The tone and the passage of time really made me read the poem several times.

  2. I like it! and I LOVE your thoughts on it. I noticed that the last line is the only question mark so it seems like it applies to the whole poem and not the individual queries. or only to the theme of the poem, if that makes sense. The idea of WHERE DOES time go.

    1. Care: This is one of my favorite poems that I have featured for Poetry Wednesday. I just keep thinking about it. And you’re right about the last line! That’s so interesting.

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