Nobel Laureate Louise Gluck Mimics ‘The Peculiar Music of Thought Itself’

Gluck's poems deal with loss, rejection and isolation

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Louise Gluck attending the 2014 National Book Awards in New York City, November 19, 2014.
Louise Gluck attending the 2014 National Book Awards in New York City, November 19, 2014.Credit: ROBIN MARCHANT - AFP
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Even as a young girl, Literature Nobel laureate Louise Gluck felt happiest immersed in poetry.

“I was a lonely child,” Gluck said in a rare interview in 2000. “My interactions with the world as a social being were unnatural, forced, performances and I was happiest reading.”

Reading poetry, she felt that the great poets William Blake and T.S. Eliot were her “companions” and “teachers.”

“My early writing was an attempt at communication with them, a response to them,” Gluck said.

Gluck, 77, is usually one to shun the limelight.

“I have very little taste for public life in the way that they understand it,” the U.S. poet said in a newspaper interview.

Still, Gluck’s many prestigious awards have kept her in the public eye. She has received the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and was named the 12th U.S. poet laureate in 2003.

On Thursday, Gluck became the 16th woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

“She excels in doing the kind of thing that only lyric poetry can do, which is among the most intimate, non-public things words can do: mimic the peculiar music of thought itself,” The New York Times wrote about Gluck in 2003.

Her poems are concerned with loneliness, family relationships, love, divorce, and mortality, and often take inspiration from Greek and Roman myths and classical motifs.

“This is common human experience, so what you use is the self as a laboratory, in which to practice, master, what seem to you central human dilemmas,” Gluck said.

Born in 1943 in New York to a businessman father and stay-at-home mother, Gluck suffered from an eating disorder as a young person and underwent psychoanalysis.

After attending Sarah Lawrence College and Columbia University in New York, Gluck taught poetry at various colleges and universities.

Today, she works as a professor of English at Yale University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, according to the Nobel Prize website.

Gluck debuted as a writer in 1968 with “Firstborn” and has published 12 collections of poetry, as well as volumes of essays on poetry.

She later said she was “embarrassed” by “Firstborn.”

“Now I look at it and I think it’s thin and unformed, and filled with the wish – animated by the wish to write,” she said in the 2000 interview. “It took me about six years to write the following book, “The House on Marshland,” and I think from that point on, I’m willing to sign my name.”

Gluck’s Pulitzer prize-winning collection, “The Wild Iris” (1992), is widely seen by critics as her best work.

Because her poetry deals with loss, rejection and isolation, it is often characterized as dark or bleak.

The New York Times described Gluck as “a slightly wraithlike, black-clad figure,” whose poems “send you out into the world a little colder but wide awake, with that voice of hers ringing in your head.”

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