Good evening to all of my friends!
In my first post of 2021 I announced my reading plan for 2021, wherein I will read poetry and literature from authors who have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.
For this first week, I’ve immersed myself in the enchanting poetry of Louise Gluck, 2020’s Nobel laureate. She was born on April 22nd, 1943, in New York City. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, “for her unmistakable voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal.”
THE WILD IRIS
I started the week methodically reading The Wild Iris (ISBN 13: 9780880013345), which was published in 1992. In the table of contents I noticed two repetitive words, “Matins” and “Vespers”. These words were both familiar and foreign, like something from a previous life. Matins, from my recollection were morning prayers, and Vespers referred to an evening worship service. I did look up the words and learned that Vespers is an evening service focused on prayer.
Looking again at the table of contents, it pleased me to see that the Matins occupied the first half of the work, while Vespers fell to the last half. Morning and evening. I loved that.
Reading the Matins and Vespers, with the mind that these titles are intentional and frequent, we are guided along as the author explores and questions the existence of God and his involvement in our lives. There is this inner dialogue she expresses, painfully at times, and I find myself asking the same questions. Are You there? Both confirmation and doubt drum thematic in these works.
Of all the great poems in The Wild Iris, my favorite is “Retreating Light”. In this poem, I meet a fellow parent, a fellow writer, and a storyteller. I feel the same frustration at times, when I read to my many children: “I was tired of telling stories.”
This fellow parent gives tools for creating stories to her children, realizing later that they cannot create their own stories. They’re missing something. Their young lives have no experiences upon which to create a story.
”I realized that you couldn’t think
with any real boldness or passion;”
And yet, they did.
She portrays no small victory as her children eventually begin creating on their own, betraying something all parents desire: freedom. She leaves us with the reality that, at some point, our kids won’t need us anymore. Once they have the tools, the stories, and the tragedies, we become memories. Or even characters in their writing.
Here is “Retreating Light”, as rendered in The Wild Iris:
RETREATING LIGHT, by Louise Gluck
You were like very young children,
always waiting for a story.
And I’d been through it all too many times;
I was tired of telling stories.
So I gave you a pencil and paper.
I gave you pens made of reeds
I had gathered myself, afternoons in the dense meadows.
I told you, write your own story.
After all those years of listening
I thought you’d know
what a story was.
All you could do do was weep.
You wanted everything told to you
and nothing thought through yourselves.
Then I realized you couldn’t think
with any real boldness or passion;
you hadn’t had your own lives yet,
your own tragedies.
So I gave you lives, I gave you tragedies,
because apparently tools alone weren’t enough.
You will never know how deeply
it pleases me to see you sitting there
like independent beings,
to see you dreaming by the open window,
holding the pencils I gave you
until the summer morning disappears into writing.
Creation has brought you
great excitement, as I knew it would,
as it does in the beginning.
And I am free to do as I please now,
to attend to other things, in confidence
you have no need of me anymore.
If you are so inclined, here is the author’s Nobel Lecture. I recommend this, not only for the wonderful insight into her life, but especially for the story she tells of competing poems.
Poetry Foundation has an awesome collection of her poems, as does Poets.org. Not all the poems featured on these sites have audio readings, but the ones that do are fantastic.
I’ve had a wonderful first week of 2021, simply because I was introduced to Louise Gluck’s poetry. I’ve already purchased another book, Faithful and Virtuous Night, for further reading throughout the year. Even though my week to focus on her is ending, I’ve become a fan and will continue reading her poetry and prose.
Next up is Peter Handke, the 2019 Nobel Laureate in Literature. Starting today, I begin reading Absence, which is the only book I’ve been able to have delivered so far. More to follow in about a week.
As a side note, when I walk around the local book stores, I have a difficult time finding works from many of the previous Nobel laureates. There are a few authors who are well represented, but most of them have remained elusive and harder to find.
FYI: if I’m ever able to open my own book store (another childhood dream that falls in behind becoming a writer), I am going to have a shelf or display of some kind that is only for the works of Nobel winners. And another for Pulitzer Prize winners. And another for award winning kids books…
I’m just want to open a book store – with mountains of books. You’re all invited!