The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Louise Glück, for poetry, and nobody wins the guess-the-Laureate contest

Rarely does a poet receive the Nobel Prize for Literature (Bob Dylan was the most recent one), but we have one this year, the American poet Louise Glück. The Nobel Foundation’s Press release (very skimpy) is here, and her official Nobel biography is here. The award is ““for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”. One excerpt from the biography:

The American poet Louise Glück was born 1943 in New York and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Apart from her writing she is a professor of English at Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut. She made her debut in 1968 with Firstborn, and was soon acclaimed as one of the most prominent poets in American contemporary literature. She has received several prestigious awards, among them the Pulitzer Prize (1993) and the National Book Award (2014).

Louise Glück has published twelve collections of poetry and some volumes of essays on poetry. All are characterized by a striving for clarity. Childhood and family life, the close relationship with parents and siblings, is a thematic that has remained central with her. In her poems, the self listens for what is left of its dreams and delusions, and nobody can be harder than she in confronting the illusions of the self. But even if Glück would never deny the significance of the autobiographical background, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. Glück seeks the universal, and in this she takes inspiration from myths and classical motifs, present in most of her works. The voices of Dido, Persephone and Eurydice – the abandoned, the punished, the betrayed – are masks for a self in transformation, as personal as it is universally valid.

Glück is much honored; she also won the National Humanities Medal, a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, a National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Bollingen Prize.

I have to say that I’m not at all familiar with her work, and, given these encomiums, I should have been (my knowledge of American poetry stops with Sylvia Plath and of non-American poetry with Seamus Heaney). The Nobel Committee gave an excerpt from her work:

Louise Glück is not only engaged by the errancies and shifting conditions of life, she is also a poet of radical change and rebirth, where the leap forward is made from a deep sense of loss. In one of her most lauded collections, The Wild Iris (1992), for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, she describes the miraculous return of life after winter in the poem ”Snowdrops”:

I did not expect to survive,
earth suppressing me. I didn’t expect
to waken again, to feel
in damp earth my body
able to respond again, remembering
after so long how to open again
in the cold light
of earliest spring –

afraid, yes, but among you again
crying yes risk joy

in the raw wind of the new world.

As of this writing there’s no video of the announcement, but I’ll post one when it appears.  Here’s Glück reading from her collection Faithful and Virtuous Night, which won a National Book Award.

As for yesterday’s “Guess the Literature Prize” contest, it was again a miserable failure—nobody guessed Glück.  (The favorite seemed to be Margaret Atwood.) What a pity!


  1. Ken Kukec
    Posted October 8, 2020 at 7:08 am | Permalink

    Jeez, you’d think the Nobel Committee for Literature could find someone better to write its prize-winner’s biography. The second paragraph of the excerpt above from Ms. Glück’s is spun up with what John Steinbeck (himself a Nobel Lit laureate) used to call “hooptedoodle.”

  2. Posted October 8, 2020 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Again a real pity they could not find someone outside “the West” to award…

  3. W.Benson
    Posted October 8, 2020 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    The “Wild Iris” expects to survive, and in its deepest being both ‘recalls and longs for’ the freezing damp earth and spring’s raw wind to guarantee its success. Does Glück’s metaphor fail, or am I a jaded, hair-splitting materialist?

    • Posted October 8, 2020 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

      Her metaphor is a beautiful one and is about snowdrops. (‘Tis I who am splitting hairs here. :)) Poets have some licence of expression, so we can forgive her deviation from pure science.

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