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Averno: Poems


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About the Author

Louise Gluck is the author of more than a dozen books of poems and a collection of essays. Her many awards include the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature, the 2015 National Humanities Medal, the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for The Wild Iris, the 2014 National Book Award for Faithful and Virtuous Night, the 1985 National Book Critics Circle Award for The Triumph of Achilles, the 2001 Bollingen Prize, the 2012 Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poems: 1962-2012, and the 2008 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. She teaches at Yale University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.


In a collection as good as her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Wild Iris (1992), Gluck gives the Persephone myth a staggering new meaning, casting that forlorn daughter as a soul caught in "an argument between the mother and the lover." Taken from Demeter, her possessive earth-goddess mother, and raped, kidnapped and wed by Hades, Persephone now faces the insatiable demands of both. In 17 multi-part lyrics centered in her familiar quatrains, Gluck traces Persephone's arc from innocence to, unhappily, experience: "This is the light of autumn," she writes in "October," "not the light that says/ I am reborn." Two poems entitled "Persephone the Wanderer" flesh out her predicament ("What will you do/ when it is your turn in the field with the god?") and the self-deceiving responses ("you will forget everything:/ those fields of ice will be/ the meadows of Elysium") that drive the book. In between, scenes from a contemporary life (" `You girls,' my mother said, `should marry / someone like your father' ") parallel the unfolding myth, with Demeter coming to represent the body's desire to remain unchanged, or untouched, by love or death. That it turns out to be impossible is just another of the dilemmas brilliantly and unflinching dramatized in this icy, intense book. Empathic and unforgiving, the voice that unifies Persephone's despondent homelessness, Demeter's rageful mothering and Hades's smitten jealousy is unique in recent poetry, and reveals the flawed humanity of the divine. (Mar.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Poet laureate Gluck's new work is not just heartbreaking, playful, mythical, and lyric poetry of the highest order-it is visionary literature. The title poem (particularly its first section) is one of the best pieces Gluck-or, for that matter, anyone writing in English today-has produced; it will break your heart every time you read it but also affirm you in the toughest moments. Hundreds of teachers across the country (including this reviewer) will be sharing it with their students. Few American authors have written eloquently about old age, but Gluck, now in her sixties, does a splendid job ("I can finally say/ long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure"), investigating matters of the soul ("I put the book aside. What is a soul?") as it finds itself within an increasingly frail body and yet remains unrepentant ("You die when your spirit dies./ Otherwise you live"). As with almost all of Gluck's recent collections, this book is a single sequence, where the poems work together making a whole: an aging soul's lyrical book of days. Once again, the author is obsessed with myth: this time she focuses on Persephone and the landscape of Averno, a small crater lake that the ancient Romans saw as the entrance to the underworld. But what makes this new collection so special is that its most successful poems combine two very different elements of her previous collections-the playful tone of Meadowlands and the illuminating moments of Vita Nova-that rarely coexist in poetry and have never before come together as smoothly and effortlessly in Gluck's own work as they do here. When Gluck takes a broader look, the scope can be truly epical; when she looks inward you can sometimes hear your own voice. And her tenderness is breathtaking ("to hear the quiet breathing that says/ I am alive, that means also /you are alive, because you hear me"). Strongly recommended for all poetry collections.-Ilya Kaminsky, Writer in Residence, Phillips Exeter Acad., Exeter, NH Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

"Brilliant [poems of] complex, haunting power . . . Averno may be Gluck's masterpiece. Certainly it demonstrates that she is writing at the peak of her powers." --Nicholas Christopher, The New York Times Book Review "Few poets can shoulder the weight of myth the way Gluck does . . . The poems brilliantly display a poet's insight, a mother's warmth, and a mortal's empathy. There is wry humor, too, and, amid much that is dark, there are fragments of hope." --The New Yorker

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