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Louise Glück
Photo: Gasper Tringale

Nobel Laureate provides valuable perspectives of our time


This year's Nobel Prize in Literature goes to the American poet Louise Glück. She receives the prize “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”.
"I have read Louise Glück with new eyes since the announcement," says Joel Duncan, researcher in literature at the University of Gothenburg.

Louise Glück was born in 1943 in New York and made her debut as a poet in 1968 with Firstborn. Since then she has published another 10 poetry collections. In 1993, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for The Wild Iris.

Her poetry is characterized by an intimate and low-key character. Amongst the motifs are love and family relationships.

"I see her writing as part of a confessional tradition in the United States that originates from poets such as Robert Lowell and to some extent Sylvia Plath. It's a sincere poetry full of pathos. But the more experimental poets I write about are often critical of this particular tradition because it has a relatively stable narrative that does not question language conventions or experiment in order to find new ways of expression, says Joel Duncan.

He himself investigates how the car's production, use and position in society have influenced the shape of American poetry throughout the 20th century. And that's why Louise Glück is so interesting for his research.

"She writes repeatedly about the car as part of major life crises, where the car's absence or decline creates opportunities for new observations that can arise in the gap between what we want to achieve and what we really achieve," he says.

Renewed interest in poetry

According to Maria Proitsaki, who teaches English at the University of Gothenburg, it means a great deal that it is a female poet who receives the prize.

"I have followed her since the 1990s and have long wondered why such sharp poets are not given more attention, and why so few read such poetry. But there is a renewed interest in poetry nowadays and the Nobel Prize this year confirms this," she says.

The Wild Iris, book cover

According to Maria Proitsaki, Louise Glück writes about intimate relationships and nature and with a detailed imagery.

"Glück's The Wild Iris from 1992 is the closest to my heart. When my daughter Iris was born, I bought her a copy of the book and read the Iris poem over and over again, though it's not exactly a children's poem. It has been said of her poems that they have a sad tone and that loneliness and death always make themselves felt. But I think her verse has an almost cleansing ability. She observes the world in awe and with a clear glance.

Touched by her poems

After hearing today's announcement, Joel Duncan read Ararat, Louise Glück's book, which was published in Swedish in 2019.

"I am moved by her poems, which deal with the theme of death within the family in a way that many readers will certainly recognize themselves today because of the corona pandemic. In Ararat, the dissolution of the self's connections seems perhaps the only security, and even a consolation, something to accomplish. I can also understand how she appeals to a Swedish audience when she writes about the importance of silence and stillness. As one of her poems in Ararat reads: "When I'm quiet, that's when the truth emerges".

And Maria Proitsaki also emphasizes the importance Louise Glück's poetry can have for readers.

"2020 is one of those years where confusion, polarisation and a huge restlessness have taken hold of all of us, all over the world. Glück's poems provide perspectives that are valuable in such a time, because they give rise to reflection and hope. She stops and approaches what is in the earth before it becomes a flower, she engages in the dormant possibility that exists even when it is hidden away.

Text: Thomas Melin