As I was reminded during my meeting with my creative writing professor who will be looking closely at the poetry component of this project, one of the most important things that I can be doing to produce quality work over the next few months is simply to read lots and lots of poetry.
I’ve started out with one of my favorites, Louise Glück, the Poet Laureate for the United States in 2003-2004 and with Ted Kooser, Poet Laureate from 2004-2006, whose work I was not familiar with prior to this semester. Although I didn’t intend to read these poets simultaneously for any particular reason, the juxtaposition of their styles and themes was striking and thought-provoking.
When I first encountered Glück’s work a few years ago, I was enthralled by her collection The Wild Iris (1992), which contemplates the garden, growth, and death as its central themes. I found her work delicately-worded with an underlying hope that propelled me through the collection. However, upon revisiting Glück’s work this year with her most recent publication A Village Life (2009), I was struck by her attention to mortality and to loss. I’ve always thought of the poet’s voice as being mostly static, steadfast and confident in proclaiming that person’s specific human experience and understanding of the world. Glück, however, reminds me that just as people themselves change, so do the voices of poets who write over a significant stretch of time. In the case of Glück, the poet engages much more with the dark and the unknown today than she did even ten years ago. In the title poem “A Village Life” which concludes the collection, Glück lays down her darkest thoughts without pause:
The death and uncertainty that await me
as they await all men, the shadows evaluating me
because it can take time to destroy a human being
the element of suspense
needs to be preserved—
(A Village Life, 69)
Ultimately, it was in Kooser’s Valentines (2007) that I found the messages of hope and reverence for simple moments and the depth of human relationships that I had so longed to find in Glück’s The Village Life. While Glück often comes off as a disengaged narrator speaking to a general audience, Kooser’s voice seems warmer and more intimate. In my favorite poem of the collection, titled “For You, Friend”, Kooser begins with disarming tenderness:
“this Valentine’s Day, I intend to stand
for as long as I can on a kitchen stool
and hold back the hands of the clock
so that wherever you are, you may walk
even more lightly in your loveliness;
Certainly both poets have much to offer their readers, but this week of readings reminded me of the importance of remaining open to new styles and settings in poetry (Kooser writes from Nebraska and the landscape often comes out strongly in his work). Looking forward to exploring Kooser more in the future along with some new poets.