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A Village Life: Poems Paperback – September 14, 2010
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Pulitzer Prize–winner Glück's 11th collection is set in an unidentified rural hill town somewhere in the Mediterranean. Less narrative than it is impressionistic, the book takes its undulating shape from natural cycles—the obvious but nonetheless awesome impact of days and seasons changing. Glück has shown herself to be an astute, heartbreaking and often funny observer of everyday violence. In poems like At the River and Marriage, she tracks life's messy movement from innocence and curiosity through lust, loss, anger and resignation. However, the relationships she studies are as much to the land—with its single, looming mountain, worked fields and increasingly dried-up river—as between individuals. Glück's achievement in this collection is to show, through the exigencies of the place she has chosen, how interpersonal relationships are formed, shaped and broken by the particular landscape in which they unfurl. Though the poems are intimate and deeply sympathetic, there remains the suggestion of a distance between Glück and the village life she writes about. When she declaims, No one really understands/ the savagery of this place, it feels as though she is speaking less about her chosen subjects than about herself. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
“Though it resembles her others least, A Village Life may come to be seen as Glück's most beautiful and moving book so far . . . [It] shows a ripening of Glück's genius, her mastery for depicting the things of this earth . . . [and] can be seen as the work of a master poet who has done what many poets long to do: she has written about death immortally.” ―Adam Fitzgerald, Rain Taxi
“A Village Life magnificently extends the landscapes, the harmonics, and the dramatis personae of Averno . . . More than any of Glück's previous volumes, A Village Life has a generous heart, a large spiritual scope in which to imagine the lives of others.” ―Rosanna Warren, The New Republic
“Not many poets can be electrifying while keeping the stakes this hypothermically low. Glück is a master, finely calibrating the shocks and their intervals. This collection, her 11th, is frightening the way a living statue would be frightening if it were to smile at you.” ―Dana Goodyear, Los Angeles Times
“Here is a poet at the unmistakable peak of her expressive power and experience . . . The characters in A Village Life do what the voice tells them. ‘It says forget, you forget. / It says begin again, you begin again.' Louise Glück begins again, unforgettably, in this profound new collection of poems.” ―Carol Muske-Dukes, Huffington Post
“This 11th book of verse by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Louise Glück offers beautiful language with a sense of loss and disappointment . . . The poems in A Village Life combine the intensity of her early work and the longer lines and insight of more recent books. The writing is often hauntingly beautiful . . . There are stanzas where Glück makes her landscape seem so radiant or exquisite that you don't want to turn the page.” ―Elizabeth Lund, Christian Science Monitor
“Like Cavafy's persona pieces, the real subject of these poems is often a particular mood, not the transmission of details that distinguish, say, a child's voice from a farmer's . . . Glück lets us hear the silence that follows in the confessional. In my favorite poems in A Village Life, she also shows us what one who has heard that silence can now say.” ―Zach Savich, Kenyon Review
“Louise Glück is one of America's most famous poets, and one of the best . . . The fictions here are really a pretext for Glück to stage poems that explore, for the first time, material that is neither explicitly her own biography nor that of her mythical stand-ins. Always at the mercy of the Greek gods that inspired her earlier poems, Glück now is playing God herself.” ―Morgan Teicher, Cleveland Plain Dealer
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The theme is familiar, but Gluck's presentation is unique. Here people, you and old, are faced with the reality that life moves forward whether they are ready or not. Indeed, our own choices may move the direction slightly, but finding our ultimate destination is clearly something we do not control. While we expect this in the older people facing death, Gluck knows that such experiences are not lost on the youth.
In "Noon" we find the tale of a "boy and girl" heading out into the meadow where they talk and picnic.
The rest--how two people can lie down on the blanket--
they know about it but they're not ready for it.
They know people who've done it, as a kind of game or trial--
then they say, no, wrong time, I think I'll just keep being a child.
But your body doesn't listen. It knows everything know,
it says you're not a child, you haven't been a child for a long time.
As the poems move on we see that many of these youth listen to their bodies and find their life now laid out for them. Some go away and come back, but they only suffer more.
To my mind, you're better off if you stay;
that way, dreams don't damage you.
This theme of longing for what we cannot have continues with age.
My body, now that we will not be traveling together much longer
I begin to feel a new tenderness toward you, very raw and unfamiliar,
like what I remember of love when I was young--
While all this starts to sound like another aging poet becoming depressed over life, Gluck is not complaining. Instead, even as seen in the stanzas above she finds those moments in life to enjoy and sees change, no matter how much we resist it, as a normal part of life. These changes in our lives are inevitable, but not to be mourned. But she is intentional about recognizing where we are and living in the moment we have.
In "Walking at Night" we see an older woman who takes advantage of the fact that men no longer desire her to take her walks at night where "her eyes that used never to leave the ground/are free now to go where they like." She is rejuvenated by her age and situation and seeks nor needs any pity.
This joy is seen best in "Abundance," a glorious ode to spring which celebrates its newness while recognizing its transience. A boy touches a girl "so he walks home a man, with a man's hungers." The fruit ripens, "baskets and baskets from a single tree/so some rots every year/ and for a few weeks there's too much." The mice scamper through the harvest, the moon is full, "Nobody dies, nobody goes hungry" and the only sound is "the roar of the wheat." Gluck calls on us to revel in these moments without fearing what has preceded and what is to come.
Much of Gluck's intent is seen in three poems all entitled "Burning Leaves." As the leaves burn we are left with little, but the burning is important in creating room for the new. We are offered no promise of anything more.
How fast it all goes, how fast the smoke clears.
And where the pile of leaves was,
an emptiness that suddenly seems vast.
But while the fire is burning, it has life.
And then, for an hour or so, it's really animated
blazing away like something alive.
death making room for life
Gluck has created a volume that will benefit from repeated readings, and her easy, unhurried rhythm makes the return that much easier. She has the gift of all great poets in seeing the commonplace, and finding in it a celebration of life as it is.
Once I started reading from the beginning, though, its purpose was clear. It is a more literal-minded book than any she's written before but it is full of the exacting, unflinching observations that made her famous. As someone who loves to see a great poet evolve and produce masterpieces throughout his or her career, I can say that this book has now tied with The Wild Iris and Meadowlands as one of my three favorites.
Read it in sequence. It's the strongest single book of hers in a long time and one of the most accessible recent books of poetry that I have encountered.
poem for me was/is "A Corridor", which speaks to the humanity and tragedy of alcoholism: the daily hope, and daily despair, deeply embedded in a family, and a village.