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Since, 1990, Louise Glck has been exploring a form that is, according to poet Robert Hass, her invention. Vita Nova -- like its immediate predecessors, a book-length sequence -- combines the ecstatic utterance of The Wild Iris with the worldly dramas elaborated in Meadowlands. Vita Nova is a book that exists in the long moment of spring, a book of deaths and beginnings, resignation and hope, brutal, luminous, and farseeing. Like late Yeats, Vita Nova dares large statement. By turns stern interlocutor and ardent novitiate, Glck compasses the essential human paradox, a terrifying act of perspective that brings into resolution the smallest human hope and the vast forces that shape and thwart it. No poet has grafted her life more stubbornly to myth than Louise Glck. In Meadowlands, this meant voyaging simultaneously through the Odyssey and the disintegration of her marriage; in Vita Nova, the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice provides a backdrop to the bitter aftermath of divorce. "No one wants to be the muse; / in the end, everyone wants to be Orpheus," Glck pithily notes, but here, she assumes both voices--the grieving artist and his doubly silenced love. "How would you like to die / while Orpheus was singing? / A long death; all the way to Dis / I heard him," the nymph complains in "Relic," while in "Orfeo," the bard dwells almost lovingly on both his loss and his art:
I have lost my Eurydice,In the end, of course, it's not Eurydice but his own pain that Orpheus immortalizes. "I made a harp of disaster / to perpetuate the beauty of my last love," Glck admits, but this is less a matter of personal glory than it is of sheer survival. And besides, she reminds us, "sometimes / our consolations are the costliest thing."
I have lost my lover,
and suddenly I am speaking French
and it seems to me I have never been in better voice;
it seems these songs
are songs of a high order.
Glck is an excruciatingly honest poet, but not, exactly, a confessional one. Vita Nova holds her life at arm's length, examining its particulars with almost Olympian detachment. Several of these poems include a self-interrogation, rendered in a voice equal parts prosecutor and witness for the defense: "Ask her how he touched her." "Ask her what she remembers." "Ask her if the fire hurts," demands a speaker in "The Burning Heart." Is this Eurydice's story as accident report? Sance? Cross-examination? Elsewhere, her troubles come rendered in a piercing gallows wit. In the volume's final poem, "Vita Nova" (the second of two with that same title), she dreams a dog, then dreams a custody fight with her ex. Be brave, she tells her hypothetical pet--"this is / all material; you'll wake up / in a different world, / you will eat again, you will grow up into a poet!" One senses that for Glck, it's all material--marriage, divorce, life, death, even and especially the ancient drama of myth. These are poems of rebirth, but of a particular kind--not of hope, and certainly not of youth, but of something far more important: poetry itself. In "The Nest," as Glck emerges from her grief, she feels her mind once again engage with the world, thinking "first, I love it. / Then, I can use it." --Mary Park