Review: Averno

I don’t consider myself a huge consumer of poetry. There are some individual poems I like well enough, but I can count the number of poetry volumes I have on my bookshelves on one hand–and these tend to be by very well-known and popular poets.

That being said…Averno, by Louise Gluck, is breathtaking.

I was playing around on The Academy of American Poets’ website–something I do when I need inspiration for creative writing–when I came across Gluck’s poem The Myth of Innocence. (Do yourself a favor and click that link!) I was so taken aback by the beauty of her language and imagery that I ordered Averno immediately.

Averno itself is a lake in Italy that the ancient Romans believed marked the entrance to the underworld. This collection of poems fittingly concerns itself with death, love, mothers and daughters, nature, and the soul. The myth of Persephone and Hades is the strand that holds many of the pieces together, and Gluck’s take on it is mournful and exuberant all at once, a far cry from the original, simple tale of lust and abduction. If, like me, you loved getting lost in Greek mythology as a kid, you would probably enjoy this more nuanced, adult rewriting of a myth.

It would have been easy, I think, to have gotten lost in myths and legendary figures, but Gluck is insistent on realism, humanizing not only Persephone but also herself, as an artist, a friend, and a lover. She speaks about her own soul, the artist’s soul, and her relationships with the same lofty, dreamlike language she uses to describe Persephone. Her talent is intimidating but also inspiring.

Here’s a sample, from a poem called “October”:

The light has changed;
middle C is tuned darker now.
And the songs of morning sound over-rehearsed.

This is the light of autumn, not the light of spring.
The light of autumn: you will not be spared.

Chills, right?

No matter how eloquently I write about Averno, it’s but a shade of how impressive the actual poems are. Click here for the New York Times’ (arguably much better) review of Averno, but do yourself a favor and just read the book itself!

Bookwanderer Rating: Five out of five stars


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