“a flower sprang, lilylike, more brilliant / than the purples of Tyre”: Louise Glück’s “Hyacinth”

photo (35)I wish I’d been able to celebrate National Poetry Month with more fanfare, Dear Readers—next year, I hope, will be different—but I hope you’ve had the chance to read a poem or two more than usual. In fact, I’d love to hear about what you’ve been reading, so please let me know in the comments which poems you’ve liked recently (slow to respond though I am, always begging your pardon).

This past weekend friends visited us for dinner and conversation, and brought with them beautiful stems of hyacinth from their garden. The whole apartment smells like spring. It happens to be one of my very favorite flowers, so here is a poem by one of my very favorite poets, Louise Glück, to go with it, though I think you’ll see that her poem is much more somber than the flower.

“Please take / care of me”: Henri Cole’s “Dandelions (II)”

photo 1 (23)Two of the best presents I’ve ever gotten myself are subscriptions: one to the New York Review of Books (this takedown of Jeff Koons makes my heart sing), and one to Poetry.

It just so happens that this month’s issue of Poetry includes poems by a couple of my favorite poets, one of whom is Henri Cole. I’m declaring his poem “Dandelions (II)” the poem of the week, partly because it’s excellent and partly because it wrestles with questions I’ve been thinking about quite a bit this week, thanks to an interesting article in The Atlantic and Katy Butler’s book Knocking on Heaven’s Door (review to come).  From what do we derive value and pleasure in life, and how do we weigh those values and pleasures as we become old or sick? How can we best care for those who cannot care for themselves? How do we deal with endings?

photo 2 (20)On a related note, I just finished reading Louise Glück’s new collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night. It’s stunning, and I highly recommend it.


“This is the barrenness / of harvest or pestilence.”

Better late than never, right? It’s been three days since All Souls Day, but I’m still mulling over Louise Glück’s creepy and just-right poem, “All Hallows.

Image Hay Bales On Freshly Harvested Fields" Courtesy of Franky242/ freedigitalphotos.net

Image Hay Bales On Freshly Harvested Fields” Courtesy of Franky242/ freedigitalphotos.net

I like that the particular line I’ve quoted in the post’s title captures the dichotomy of the end of fall (well, at least here it feels like the end of fall, even if there are technically six more weeks until winter) — it’s difficult to discern, sometimes, whether it feels like the ground underfoot is dying or bursting with life.

Just now the first stanza of the poem, which begins, “Even now this landscape is assembling.” suggests to me a painting, I think a Monet, of the gathered hay covered in lavender snow. Come to think of it, I can bring to mind several summer and spring paintings, and not a few decked with snow, but I’m having a difficult time coming up with a fall painting (if you have one you like, let me know!). Maybe that’s because, as the first line suggests, autumn “is assembling” itself for winter; it’s a flux-state, not even, really, itself.

On Unattributed Jacket Copy

To my mind, a book’s jacket copy should include a description of the book’s contents, a brief biography of the author, and perhaps a few words of (illuminating) praise from a respectable critic.

Blurbs sell books, and so several reviewers’ laudatory words are often to be found on the covers of books both excellent and ordinary. At least we may read the book and decide for ourselves if we will trust the reviewers’ recommendations again. But unattributed jacket copy is a different beast. Here is an example of praise beyond fulsome:

In [the book] she stares down her own death, and, in so doing, forces endless superimpositions of the possible on the impossible–an act that simultaneously defies and embraces the inevitable, and is, finally, mimetic. Over and over, at each wild leap or transformation, flames shoot up the reader’s spine.

So reads the end of the jacket blurb on Louise Gluck’s The Seven Ages. I cannot think that the word “mimetic” draws in potential readers; perhaps the writer felt confident enough that Gluck’s much deserved renown as Poet Laureate and eight previously published volumes of poetry would be quite enough to ensure sales.

Such writing, however, makes me want to take cover under my desk and hope that copies of Auerbach do not find me there, and that my friends and relatives don’t believe that this is the kind of drivel that too much graduate school forces one to produce.

I liked Gluck’s collection very much, especially “Youth,” “Grace,” and “Mitosis.”  I appreciated the poems about the speaker’s sister, especially after reading Tell the Wolves I’m Home, with its focus on the relationship between the two sisters. However, at no point during my reading did I feel sparks in the vicinity of my spine, let alone flames.

A modest proposal: signed jacket copy.