Louise Gluck has quickly established herself as one of my favorite poets, if not my favorite of all time. Her poems are so lyrical and so dreamy that reading them is an incredibly soothing experience. If I had my way, I would have read The Wild Iris, her Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry collection, lying in a hammock in my parents’ backyard, drenched in summertime sun. Still, even reading these poems on a crowded subway had me dreaming of flowers, August nights, and dark, rich soil. The power of her words is undeniable!
The Wild Iris consists of a set of poems written from the points-of-view of three narrators. One is a human, I assume Gluck herself. One is a series of flowers in her garden, from the rose to the witchgrass. And the third is an omniscient, omnipresent god-like force. Gluck doesn’t necessarily tell you this; it is only through reading and re-reading the poems in sequence that these narrative voices truly emerge. Each narrator has conflicted thoughts and feelings about the others, and the way in which they question, doubt, and supplicate one another.
There are lots of repeating images and themes here, from death and rebirth to identity to the responsibilities of a creator to his creations. The flower-based poems, for example, both fear death and recognize that death is not the end; their seeds will spread and spring will come for them once more. They also call out feelingly for their gardeners’ help to survive, a sentiment echoed in the poems narrated by humans and addressed to a divine force. I read somewhere that Gluck often introduces elements from the Bible, and some of those stories seem to be present here as well, when the god-narrator speaks (sometimes exasperatedly!) about the needs and fears of his inventions. While I’m not particularly religious, I did enjoy how simultaneously accessible and alien Gluck’s god sounded.
If I’m honest with myself, though, I think I was more emotionally-connected to the previous collection of Gluck’s that I’ve read and reviewed, Averno. Perhaps it’s because I am much more familiar with Greek mythology than I am with the books of the Bible. I felt like I had to work a bit harder to unearth the meaning in The Wild Iris‘s poems–not necessarily a bad thing!–and still walked away not knowing if my interpretations were correct. Still, for anyone looking to read more of Gluck’s work specifically, or more poetry generally, I would highly recommend this collection.
Some of my favorite poems from this collection were “Retreating Light,” “Witchgrass,” and “Matins” #3. In fact, because I loved it and its sentiments so much, here is “Retreating Light”:
You were always very young children,
always waiting for a story.
And I’d been through it all too many times;
I was tired of telling stories.
So I gave you the pencil and paper.
I gave you pens made of reeds
I had gathered myself, afternoons in the dense meadows.
I told you, write your own story.
After all those years of listening
I thought you’d know
what a story was.
All you could do was weep.
You wanted everything told to you
and nothing thought through yourselves.
Then I realized you couldn’t think
with any real boldness or passion;
you hadn’t had your own lives yet,
your own tragedies.
So I gave you lives, I gave you tragedies,
because apparently tools alone weren’t enough.
You will never know how deeply
it pleases me to see you sitting there
like independent beings,
to see you dreaming by the open window,
holding the pencils I gave you
until the summer morning disappears into writing.
Creation has brought you
great excitement, as I knew it would,
as it does in the beginning.
And I am free to do as I please now,
to attend to other things, in confidence
you have no need of me anymore.
Bookwanderer Rating: Four out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “I told you, write your own story.”