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Proofs and Theories Paperback – December 1, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gluck ( The Wild Iris ) maintains that she is "uneasy with commentary," her collection of 16 essays, all previously published in literary journals, is often profound. The subjects of her writing include poets Stanley Kunitz, Hugh Seidman, T. S. Eliot; the future (considered in a 1993 Williams College graduation address); education; and the nature of courage. Yet the real lure of her commentary is sensibility, even more than subject. As with her poetry, Gluck's prose is fine and pared but visionary; her intelligence is precise and earnest. She uses mind as a moral power, whether addressing experience or literature. For instance, in "Disinterestedness," Gluck writes in support of an ideal of reading with nearly bias-free receptivity that literary theorists may scoff, but is liberating and persuasive as she explains it. Here and elsewhere, Gluck's brevity, clarity and resolute independence are impressive.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Gluck (Pulitzer Prize winner for The Wild Iris, LJ 5/15/92) here presents an uneven collection of essays on modern and contemporary poetry. Some of the essays are written in a lucid prose style. For instance, "Disruption, Hesitation, Silence," the best of the volume, compares the poetry of John Berryman, George Oppen, and T.S. Eliot, associating each with an adjectival attribute in the title. However, many of the essays need more analysis of the poets covered. For example, the essay "On Stanley Kunitz" (Gluck's mentor) is too short for a tribute and fails to infuse any germane thought into his poetry. At times, Gluck is able to pull off the improbable comparison of these very different poets in a creative twist of her imagination. Perhaps the lack of development in many of the essays results because Gluck "doesn't trust [her] prose." She holds back from explaining her theories and developing her proofs, which leaves the reader wanting more. For literary collections.-Tim Gavin, Episcopal Acad., Merion, Pa.-- prose." She holds back from explaining her theories and developing her proofs, which leaves the reader wanting more. For literary collections.
Tim Gavin, Episcopal Acad., Merion, Pa.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 150 pages
  • Publisher: Ecco; Reissue edition (December 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0880014423
  • ISBN-13: 978-0880014427
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #202,415 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Alan Rosenfelder on July 15, 2001
Format: Paperback
Louis Gluck writes brilliant poems which meander around the serious issues of existence ,life ,love ,alienation ,separation,memories and dreams.This is a prose exposition of a collection of her essays which in a way talk of the methods of her craft and give her thoughts on tangible topics such as a critique of the works of T.S.Eliot and more abstract ideas such as the need for brevity in poetry.In another sense these prose meditations are in fact an adjunt to her poems and are meaningful in their own right.From apparently nowhere come profound ideas ,i quote"When you read anything worth remembering,you liberate a human voice;you release into the world again a companion spirit".Louise Gluck is herself a voice well worth listening to ,a contemporary philosopher who can address the important issues fearlessly and with clarity of thought .A gem of a book don't miss it.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Angela H. on January 5, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Have you ever wanted to get into the mind of a writer? Find out what makes them tick outside of their art? Louise Gluck's Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry does just that. Having recently read the book for a class, I was immediately sucked in by the first essay, "Education of the Poet." There I found in Gluck's work an indomitable spirit, a certain fearlessnss and insistence like the determination of a newborn as it is being pushed out of the womb.
Gluck said early on she had "great resources of will and no self." This strength of will and lack of self almost led to her death. Since she often felt unheard, she took adolescent rebelliousness a few notches higher than most teens. Because her parents wanted her to eat, she willed herself to eschew hunger. As Gluck neared 75 pounds, she found she had to make some decisions. Eventually, she enrolled in The School of General Studies at Columbia and studied poetry under Leonie Adams and later, reknowned poet, Stanley Kunitz.
Any writer who has ever struggled with declaring his or her vocation in life can readily identify with Gluck's struggle in this first essay. "...And most writers spend much of their time in various kinds of torment: wanting to write, being unable to write; wanting to write differently, being unable to write differently."
Another favorite essay, "On Stanley Kunitz" may appeal to those who aspire to be teachers or who have ever worked with a dynamic and inspiring teacher or mentor. Gluck defines what is the essence of the teacher/student relationship in her work/apprenticeship with Stanley Kunitz: "For five years I overheard a splendid mind engaged with words, with what was the most crucial involvement in my life..."...
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Erika Dreifus on July 21, 2002
Format: Paperback
"The fundamental experience of the writer is helplessness," declares Louise Glück in the opening sentence of the first essay in _Proofs & Theories_. Although the type of helplessness Glück proceeds to describe differs from the sense of weakness with which a prose writer might attempt to review a book of poetry, the words nonetheless create a bridge between the poet-essayist and her reader. They ease the tension, the anxiety. The education begins.
Glück's essays remind the prose writer that all "reviews" may share certain features. Simple titles that target the subject ("On T.S. Eliot; "On Stanley Kunitz") work well; so, too, may titles that promise treatment of an elusive yet alluring theme: ("The Forbidden"; "Invitation and Exclusion"). On the whole, _Proofs & Theories_ also supports the notion that a review need not be long. Glück notes that most of her poet-contemporaries "are interested in length: they want to write long lines, long stanzas, long poems"; one might add that a number of literary reviewers are interested in writing long reviews, and such pieces are not always necessary. Finally, the essays convey a general impression that the _substance_ of a piece of literature is equally important (if not more so) than its _style_.
This last point is crucial for a prose writer approaching the task of reviewing poetry. Louise Glück's essays reveal preoccupations shared by prose writers--by this prose writer, anyway. Themes. Tone. Voice. It's perfectly all right, _Proofs & Theories_ tells the prose writer, to discuss poetry in these terms.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By N. Wong on December 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
I am more inclined to Gluck's poetry than her essays in this book, which has won the 1993 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Non-Fiction. Many readers are offended by Gluck's prose, which is said to be digressive and convoluted. And I agree with this view, at some point. I am not bothered by her syntax (Derrida and Lacan and many other philosophers are even more off-putting); however, I am concerned with how the renown poet is trying to make herself understood.

In each chapter, Gluck attempts to illustrate certain points, either on the life as a poet, or on the sort of poetry she is advocating or standing against. Some elaborations are easy to get, while some not. When they are obscure, it is mainly because Gluck is not using concrete terms for explanation. In this case, I think it's easier to understand the works of the poet than herself.

Despite this, there are a few illuminating essays, which are written not with skills, but wisdom. Look at the first line of the book: "The fundamental experience of writers is helplessness." Upon reading this, readers immediately know this book is not a usual craft book on poetry, but rather a commentary on the genre and hopefully more about the writer's own writing life.

Towards the end of the book, Gluck discusses a few of her early poems and mentions their strengths and weaknesses, which I think she should have done more. Also, the poet mentions how at some times she cannot write one single word, yet the way she resumes writing again is not given in details. Therefore, it seems to me that it is natural not being able to write, and even more natural that one day she (and therefore us?) can write again.

Her discussion on the engagement of Eliot's and Stevens's works is interesting, though she does not really do it directly. I keep thinking of the randomness in Stevens's works thereafter, and also reflecting on the notion in my pieces.
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