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ISSN 1409-6900 | UDK 82+7     Blesok no. 52 | volume X | January-February, 2007



                     Peer-reviewed journal
Blesok no. 52January-February, 2007


p. 1
Maureen N. McLane

Ancient and modern meet in the haunting poems of Louise Glück, says Maureen N. McLane in the review of “Averno” (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2006; 79 pp.), published in The Washington Post

    Reading Louise Glück is excruciating – and this is a compliment. A poet of taut intensities, she walks a high-wire between the oracular and everyday, the absolute and the ephemeral, the monumental and the delicate. In her latest book, Glück ushers us into the realm of the dead: Averno is the lake west of Naples that, according to the Romans, was the entrance to the Underworld. Taking up the myth of Persephone – the story of Demeter's daughter initiated (or abducted) into sex by Hades, lord of the Underworld – Glück explores death, memory, sexuality, family and, most profoundly, “soul-making,” as Keats put it. The poet moves through “All the different nouns – / she says them in rotation./ Death, husband, god, stranger.”
    Glück is less interested in family romance or sexual trauma than in our mortality and our decisive alienation from nature. In a remarkable opening sequence, “October,” she evokes our precarious attachment to the Earth in a ceaseless rhythmic interrogative: “Is it winter again, is it cold again/ … wasn't my body/ rescued, wasn't it safe/ … weren't we necessary to the earth,// the vines, were they harvested?” Glück emerges here as a romantic poet – a 21st-century American heir of Wordsworth and Shelley. Like them, she interrogates the world and finds it inadequate to the mind; and like the Romantics at their most skeptical and chastened, she treats myths not as consolations but as probes for thought. Of the Persephone myth Glück writes: “You are allowed to like/ no one, you know. The characters/ are not people. They are aspects of a dilemma or conflict.”
    Alert to mythic structure, its fissures and tensions, Glück analyzes and doesn't merely recycle mythic motifs. “Spring will return, a dream/ based on a falsehood:/ that the dead return.” Instead of hymns to the sun, we get a blistering critique: “That's what/ the sun meant: it meant/ scorched – “
    Usually when poets turn to myth, I get anxious, anticipating yet another banal poem tricked-out with fancy Greek or Roman names, the poet relieved of invention by old plots dutifully retold. Too often myth serves as bogus prop, a bid for high seriousness, cultural capital and poeticity. It is easy to invoke

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