Interview with Louise Glück, 2014 National Book Award Winner, Poetry
Faithful and Virtuous Night
Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Sandra Lim: You’ve been writing seriously since your teens and have written and published numerous books of poetry, including a comprehensive collection that spans your career. How did you feel when you heard about your nomination?
Louise Glück: Grateful.
SL: As a collection, Faithful and Virtuous Night contains so many densities: the expansive lyric poems are interspersed with parable-like prose poems. In “The Story of a Day,” the speaker says, “I was torn between a structure of oppositions / and a narrative structure—“. How do you see the connection between poetry and prose in your work?
LG: I don’t know that there existed, before this book, a connection between poetry and prose in my work, unless you count the possible influence on my poems of the essays I began, some decades ago, to write intermittently. I felt, when I worked in that form, that some leftover elasticity seeped into my rather songlike intense poems, introducing sensations of space and variety. Also, I like to read prose—novels and biographies, mainly, but also pill bottles and cereal boxes. Prose absorbs me; toward poems my reactions are too fevered. Envious, sometimes; sometimes enraged or appalled. Painful sensations, though the envy does, in the end, mutate into homage, which in turn becomes inspiration.
As I was close to the end of Faithful and Virtuous Night, I was one last time stymied. Kathryn Davis suggested I read Kafka’s short stories again. What followed was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my writing life. Two weeks of a brand new toy! And then the book was done.
SL: For you, what distinguishes this book from all your other books?
LG: What distinguishes this book, to me, is the absence of struggle, which has been replaced not by resignation, but rather by a kind of strange ecstasy. It may be no other reader will feel this. Old age, particularly before it produces any spectacular deterioration, is very different from the fear of death, which has been my subject, and battleground, since I began writing in my early childhood.
SL: What in the process of writing poems continues to surprise you?
LG: The process of writing doesn’t, for me, vary much, except in the time it takes. And my feelings remain of a kind of grade school simplicity. I am dead. Then I am alive. And the older I get, the more thrilled I am.
Sandra Lim is the author of The Wilderness (W.W. Norton, 2014), selected by Louise Glück for the 2013 Barnard Women Poets Prize, and a previous collection of poetry, Loveliest Grotesque (Kore Press, 2006). The recipient of fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Getty Research Institute, she is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.