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Wild Iris Paperback – November 1, 1993
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In an earlier set of poems, The Garden, Gluck retold the myth of Eden; in this sequence it is clear that paradise has been lost, and the poet, Eve-like, struggles to make sense of her place in the universe. For this old and still post-modern theme, Gluck bravely takes the risk of adopting a highly symbolic structure. She uses the conceit of parallel discourses between the flowers of a garden and the gardener (the poet), and between the gardener/poet and an unnamed god. The reader shares the poet's human predicament of being caught between these material and spiritual worlds, each lush and musical, drawing inspiration from both: from the flowers, a hymn to communality; from the god, a universal view of human suffering. The collection was awarded the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
From Publishers Weekly
The award-winning author of The Triumph of Achilles looks here at relations between heaven and earth. More than half of the poems address an "unreachable father," or are spoken in a voice meant to be his: "Your souls should have been immense by now, / not what they are, / small talking things . . . This ambitious and original work consists of a series of "matins," "vespers," poems about flowers, and others about the seasons or times of day, carrying forward a dialogue between the human and divine. This is poetry of great beauty, where lamentation, doubt and praise show us a god who can blast or console, but who too often leaves us alone; Gluck, then, wishes to understand a world where peace "rushes through me, / . . . like bright light through the bare tree." Only rarely (in "The Doorway," for example) does the writing fail. But when dialogue melds with lyricism, the result is splendid. In "Violets" the speaker tells her "dear / suffering master": "you / are no more lost / than we are, under / the hawthorn tree, the hawthorn holding / balanced trays of pearls." This important book has a powerful, muted strangeness.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top Customer Reviews
The book is a poetic sequence, epitomizes the idea of a sequence, in fact. That is, this is not a novel-in-verse, like the stupendous, magnificent, unbelievable *Autobiography of Red* by Anne Carson. There is no real plot, no real characters, no real setting. (I emphasize the adjective 'real,' because there is a plot and a setting and there are characters, but not in the traditional sense.) Rather, the poems speak to each other, they converse. Literally, as the book takes the form of two parallel discourses: 1) between a female gardener and God and 2) between plants and the female gardener or, more generally, humanity. It is no mistake that the book abounds with flowers and gardens and God: the creation myth of Adam and Eve in the garden acts a sort of driving force behind the entire book, although the Paradise lost is not necessarily a physical location or even a proximity to any one particular deity. The plot, as far as there is a plot, chronicles disillusionment, frustration, despair, and yes, hope. Most interestingly, every single one of the characters -- the flowers, the gardener, and God itself -- feel the emotions I've listed, and this anthropomorphizing of everything is yet another thread that weaves its way through the poems, connecting them and braiding them into the Pulitzer-prize winning sequence that they are.
The book, however, is more than the sum of its parts: each poem, individually, is its own work of art, and if the poetry were subordinated to the book, most of Glück's genius would be lost. The tone of the poems is unique: distant yet not detached, chilled yet not cold. Critics have claimed that Glück is neither an intellectual poet (à la Eliot) or a Confessional poet (à la Plath) but somewhere in between, and I'd have to agree. Her poems lack the in-the-moment emotional tantrums of things like "Lady Lazarus" or "Daddy," but they are not the universalized ice sculptures of *The Waste-land*. They are not so easily understood (at least superficially) as a Robert Lowell poem -- specifically with *The Wild Iris*, for instance, a bit of background on some of the flowers that speak is required to unlock the poems -- and yet they are not as inscrutable as something Stevens or Eliot wrote earlier in the century. Many of the poems have the characteristic irony with which Glück captured my heart long ago, an almost bitter and yet still amused tinge of sarcasm that makes me crack a smile despite the usually negative thoughts it conveys. Although she writes in unrhymed free verse, Glück is a master of the line, and this book has some of the most powerful single lines I have read in contemporary poetry: "in the raw wind of the new world"; "of enduring? Blaze of the red cheek, glory"; "this one summer we have entered eternity."
An amazing, life-changing book that answers the age-old adage "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?" with a resounding, polyphonic YES.