- Birthday, Books, Quotes, Reading, Writing

Louise Glück on Art, Writing, Poetry, Silence, and More.


Happy birthday, Louise Glück! 77, today! Here are some quotes from the writer:


“Follow your enthusiasms.”


“Writing is a kind of revenge against circumstance too: bad luck, loss, pain. If you make something out of it, then you’ve no longer been bested by these events.”


“Poetry survives because it haunts and it haunts because it is simultaneously utterly clear and deeply mysterious; because it cannot be entirely accounted for, it cannot be exhausted.”


“As soon as I can place myself and describe myself—I want immediately to do the opposite thing.”


“If I have any message to any of you who write, it’s that you cannot sit calmly repeating yourself.”


“The dream of art is not to assert what is already known but to illuminate what has been hidden.”


“It seems to me that the desire to make art produces an ongoing experience of longing, a restlessness sometimes, but not inevitably, played out romantically, or sexually. Always there seems something ahead, the next poem or story, visible, at least, apprehensible, but unreachable. To perceive it at all is to be haunted by it; some sound, some tone, becomes a torment—the poem embodying that sound seems to exist somewhere already finished. It’s like a lighthouse, except that, as one swims towards it, it backs away.”


“I feel quite passionately that the degree to which I have, if I have, stayed alive as a writer and changed as a writer, owes much to the intensity with which I’ve immersed myself in the work, sometimes very alien work, of people younger than I, people making sounds I haven’t heard. That’s what I need to know about.”


“To the degree that I apprehend acclaim, I think, Ah, it’s a flaw in the work.”


“I think the poem is a communication between a mouth and an ear—not an actual mouth and an actual ear, but a mind that sends a message and a mind that receives it. For me, the aural experience of a poem is transmitted visually. I hear with my eyes and dislike reading aloud and (except on very rare occasions) being read to. The poem becomes, when read aloud, a much simpler, sequential shape: the web becomes a one-way street. In any case, the knowledge, or hope, that the reader exists is a great solace.”


“I’ve always thought what I wanted to do was to get as many tones as you can possibly get onto the page and shift gears. I like poems that do that, so that you think you’re reading one poem and then you’re reading another poem and then you’re reading another poem. I like that. Not every line, so that every line is another non sequitur. But when I think of some of the operas that I love best they’re the ones that have that spaciousness, that generosity and humor, and at the same time they’re wrenching.”


“‘Poet’ must be used cautiously; it names an aspiration, not an occupation. In other words: not a noun for a passport.”


“And I know also that in writing something seems a marvelous epiphany and then you look at it and you think, yes, but…And that’s when it gets interesting. When the grand solution in which all is contained is revealed as porous. I like that moment. And then you really inquire.”


“There are moments where it’s terrifying because there’s not much on the page. But then you think, well, where is there life? And how do I explain why it’s there and not elsewhere? And it often changes people. I think just that degree of scrutiny invites them to use their own quite brilliant minds on their work in a way that they haven’t.”


“It has to seem like an adventure, it has to seem fun, it has to seem like something you’ve never done before. I’m not interested in polishing the monument or whatever you might do.”


“The thing that you fear is a kind of dogged insistence on an idea. A kind of bombast. Or just insisting that the reader understand something. But I usually don’t have any ideas when I begin, so that last thing I am unlikely to be guilty of, because I don’t begin with anything I wish to impart.”


“I think that what you’re doing when you’re writing is that you’re playing both roles, you’re playing the reader and the writer and I don’t think about—in fact, I hate it and I don’t understand it when a teacher will say something about the reader. I think, there’s some uniform person who goes by the name of The Reader? There’s every kind of reader in the world— there’s the subtle reader, the opaque passionate reader, there’s the informed reader, there’s the uninformed reader with a feel for the form, there’s the uninformed reader with no feeling of the form—do you explain the form on the page to the reader? And I don’t know how you conceptualize the reader except that if you show your work to ten different people and they all have problems, there’s a good chance there will be a problem even if not one of them may actually have put into words what the problem is. But possibly, possibly that’s not the case either.”


“I think the only conscious aim is the wanting to be surprised. The degree to which I sound like myself seems sort of a curse.”


“I never think of audience. I hate that word. I think of a reader. I think my poems want a reader, and they’re completed by a reader. But it’s the single reader, and whether that person exists in multiple or not makes no spiritual difference, though it has practical impact. What matters to me is the reader’s subtlety and depth of response and whether these prove durable. The idea of enlarging the audience for poetry seems to me ludicrous.”


“When I’m trying to put a poem or a book together, I feel like a tracker in the forest following a scent, tracking only step to step. It’s not as though I have plot elements grafted onto the walls elaborating themselves. Of course, I have no idea what I’m tracking, only the conviction that I’ll know it when I see it.”


“I would prefer the notion that a poet turns ideas and abstractions into facts, rather than the other way around.”


“I’m an opportunist—I always hope I’ll get material out of any activity. I never know where writing is going to come from […]. This is just dream time, the way detective fiction is. It stills a certain kind of anxiety and at the same time engages the mind. As the mind is engaged and anxiety suppressed, some imaginative work in some recessed portion of the being is getting done. Not to say that every moment is contributing to a book or a poem, but you can’t know in advance what will. Don’t prejudge your stimuli. Just trust where your attention goes.”


“Your work will come out of an authentic life, and if you suppress all of your most passionate impulses in the service of an art that has not yet declared itself, you’re making a terrible mistake.”


“I go through two, three years writing nothing. Zero. Not a sentence. Not bad poems I discard, not notes toward poems. Nothing. And you don’t know in those periods that the silence will end, that you will ever recover speech. It’s pretty much hell, and the fact that it’s always ended before doesn’t mean that any current silence isn’t the terminal silence beyond which you will not move, though you will live many years in your incapacity. Each time it feels that way. When I’m not writing, all the old work becomes a reprimand: Look what you could do once, you pathetic slug.”


“[I]n saying to write, you’re going to write that which most concerns you, which most quickens your mind, and then to turn those subjects over with as resourceful and complex a touch as possible.”


“I want to be interested. I want to feel my thoughts alive. That doesn’t seem to take courage. It seems fortunate, when that’s permitted. When for some reason or other, I have, I’m in the grip of an idea. That just seems the most blessed and remarkable state I don’t enter all that often.”


“We’re all born mortal. We have to contend with the idea of mortality. We all, at some point, love, with the risks involved, the vulnerabilities involved, the disappointments and great thrills of passion. This is common human experience, so what you use is the self as a laboratory, in which to practice, master, what seem to you central human dilemmas.”


“I’m sure that I will not be able to hold onto this happy feeling, but at the moment it seems to me that when you realize you’ve been fighting death for the whole of your life, at a certain point you think, fuck it.”


“And I think that most writers feel some sense that dialogue with the dead. And when people ask, what do you want, what kind of response do you want to your work, what I want is for Blake to come down from heaven and say, ‘Louise, you did a very good job.’ That’s what I want. And fortunately, I have Blake surrogates who are alive, and their fastidious attention helps me—proves that effort is not wasted, that there are ears that receive. And you want to be such an ear yourself. I think it’s not possible to be a writer without being that kind of instrument for other people.”


“And there’s no drama attendant in the idea of dying. It’s beyond the drama of the forfeit of the world; it’s just a long exhalation.”


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