Louise Glück, the recent, much deserved recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature, is the author of the next essay in the David Rivard class packet. It's her “Disruption, Hesitation, Silence” essay and it’s very interesting that Rivard placed this essay after Tony Hoagland’s “Disproportion” essay because it takes an opposing stance (just like our previous essay did).
This isn’t one of my favorite Gluck essays. I loved both of her essay books American Originality and Proofs & Theories. But even back when was a young, egomaniacal little poet I wrote at the end of this essay TERRIBLE ESSAY (in all caps like that even).
Hubris, meet me.
Anyway, I can’t say I had a complete turnaround with this essay but it’s a good argument for inconclusion and brevity, stripping it back down, the opposite of all that extra bling and filler Hoagland (and vicariously I) were enjoying in his essay.
Glück is deprecating at first, admitting she has a “tendency to reject all ideas I didn’t think of first…[which] creates an obligation to articulate an argument.” Hey, it's almost as if she was arguing with Hoagland directly.
“I do not think that more information always makes a richer poem. I am attracted to ellipsis, to the unsaid, to suggestion, to eloquent deliberate silence….to the power of ruins….wholeness is implied.”
She talks about Holbein’s drawings exhibited in an unfinished state and how they show the “power of the unfinished. All earthly experience is partial…”
She rejects the “cult of exhaustive detail” and finally declares she prefers “the suggested over the amplified.” This is a preference against flamboyance for subtlety. But unlike the previous essay we discussed, she doesn’t bank in terms like truth or authenticity. She doesn't make a character judgement in other words. This is a choice of craft, she says.
To show examples, she covers Rilke’s poem about the torso of Apollo and how Rilke is the “master of not saying.” She then covers Berryman’s Dream Songs,” the drama of which she says is “the absence of a firm self.” Then she moves to George Oppen and says she tries to read Berryman and Open side by side (interesting project idea).
“Oppen’s clean, austere, dynamic poetry has very few active verbs. No one uses the verb of being better.” And she talks about his silences and pauses. “..very little of the language is vivid….ideas are held in suspension….austerity and a distaste for blather.”
[mmmm….bather….sounds like buttah.]
Glück admits she has a “suspicion of closure” that is common for many post-modernists, who have the luxury of being suspicious of it, I might add. Certain experimental ideas in post-modernism have been labeled privileged and I think for good reason (although I do also like all those experiments). War-torn poets may yearn for closure in a way that middle- and upper-class poets can’t quite imagine. But this is a solid stance of poets of Glück's age and I don’t want to be dismissive of it either….it’s an offshoot of the challenge poet-modernism made to classic Academia and at that time it was very useful.
Glück talks about “the time it takes for information to be absorbed” as we read through a poem. I love this about Gluck, that she thinks this mental process through.
She talks about Oppen’s “characteristic move” of “the idea implied in being dismissed,” how he “defines things by saying what they are not….creation through eradication is, for me, congenial.”
For sure there is something frustratingly heartfelt in the unsaid-but-indicated thing, but I don’t know as I would go as far as to call it ‘congenial.’
“When poems are difficult, it is often because their silences are complicated, hard to follow. For me, the answer to such moments is not more language.”
This is an interesting position for a poet to take, for someone who's currency is language, but not very unlike her own poems. I just would insist again here that neither way is right or wrong, just strategies one prefers.
She calls the “dream of abundance” “all detail and no shape…’gratuitous.’”
She admits “withholding is currently suspect. It is associated with rigidity, miserliness, insufficiencies; with faculties either atrophied or checked. It is a habit not admired in personal interaction, in which realm it is associated with ideas of manipulation, slyness, coldness; it is considered uniformly dangerous in governments, and so on.”
It's hard to argue with any of that, even in our favorite poets. These attributes are human ones, of personal choice. Some miserly, atrophied, manipulative, cold poets are quite good (as the reading goes).
But none of this proves being flamboyant, effusive, forthright, loose and over-explain-y is wrong in any way.
Glück believes the tension “promotes depth” as it is “distilled.”
Now for me, the bang for the buck in this essay comes in her explication of T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” which is really brilliant. She says,
[The poem] “is a poem of pathological delay. The action of the poem is inaction. “Let us go, then, you and I...” But Prufrock puts off starting….nothing in fact, occurs; nothing is ever begun.”
Finally, I get this poem. Thank you Louise Glück.
“The future is impossible, the past lost. And the present a vacuum: non-action….The poem is all wringing of hands...the masterpiece of avoidance. At the poem’s center is the unsaid…”
Since I searched Google a few days ago for Glück, my news page has been posting links to recent articles about her, including these interesting things:
Creepy Google. But thanks.