American Poet Louise Glück Wins Nobel Prize
The objective value of a piece of art is hard to define because art is often grounded in perception.
The objective value of a piece of art is hard to define because art is often grounded in perception. Art reviews can discuss rhetorical devices and stylistic choices, but ultimately, they assign value to the piece based on the reviewer's or judge's personal experience on the subject. I can't definitively conclude whether or not poet Louise Glück, the recipient of the 2020 Nobel Prize in literature, deserves her accolades. I can, however, offer the objective truths of her life and my personal impressions of her work.
Glück was born in New York City to Jewish parents and grew up in Long Island. She began writing poetry as a child, and after developing anorexia in her adolescence, she chose to focus on therapy rather than attend a university full-time. She did, however, attend poetry workshops at Sarah Lawrence College and at Columbia University. After teaching poetry at Goddard College in Vermont, she became a writer-in-residence at Yale University. Glück is critically acclaimed as the winner of the 1993 Pulitzer Prize, the 2014 National Book Award, and the United States Poet Laureate from 2003 to 2004. Despite her long list of achievements, she rarely appears in the spotlight, rendering her unknown to the public and leaving her poetry as the only gateway for others to understand her inner thoughts and personal life.
2020 has been a politically polarizing year, and thus one of the defining features of acclaimed artists this year is their political stance. In a year of reckoning with racial injustice, awards like the U.K.’s Booker Prize have been awarded to many racially-themed books. In contrast, Glück's works focus more on universal experiences of the human condition—love, grief, change, isolation, and desire. Her dedicated portrayals of everyday emotion, though not particularly polemical or political, resonate deeply with her readers and stand out amongst others in the current social atmosphere.
I've always been a little scared of poetry. Its obscurity and pretension at times make me feel stupid. The barrier to my understanding of poetry, I think, is my (and perhaps our collective) insistence on gaining a complete understanding of everything we come across. Sure, understanding dactylic hexameter may help us understand Greek and Roman epics better, but I don’t think we need to fully grasp it in order to appreciate these pieces of literature. As I began to approach poetry in the same way that I approach music, I gained a richer appreciation for the craft. You don’t need a complete understanding of Schenkerian Analysis to like western classical music. Similarly, you don’t need to be an encyclopedia of literary devices to like poetry. Glück's works speak to me without the intimidating characteristics of some others. Candid and almost conversational, Glück somehow manages to speak poetically using almost prosaic sentences.
"Do you know what I was, how I lived? You know/what despair is; then/winter should have meaning for you," Glück writes in the beginning of "Snowdrops," one of my favorite poems. She seems to communicate directly with the reader, abandoning the flashy, esoteric literary devices that impress my English teachers. Her works, full of vivid passion and themes that resonate with raw human emotions, are easily comprehended through simple sentences and phrases. "Snowdrops" explores the feeling of rebirth after trudging through a seemingly endless winter of despair. Glück expresses that winter and despair feel neverending in the moment, but they never actually are. She asserts that we will emerge, eventually, in the "raw wind of the new world." The ideas of spring after winter and happiness after despair are easily-interpreted and they focus on universal human experiences. Her diction is deliberately chosen to deliver clarity and impact without sounding verbose, creating a unique style that grabs the attention of a general audience. Her sentences pulse with a sort of musical rhythm and repetition that keep them from becoming truly prosaic, and although not obviously seen through her use of language, she does experiment with rhetorics. Glück's deceptively straightforward language remains engaging to the part of me that is still subtly daunted by the overuse of polysyllabic literary devices.With these characteristics, her works set the tone that poetry is accessible, and can be enjoyed by everyone.
In 2020, political art has become very important, as is pushing the boundaries of art through rhetorical pyrotechnics. However, common appreciation of gaudy language should not keep us from appreciating poets like Glück. In a year where the complexities of politics capture the majority of our attention, Glück's universal themes speak to a different side of our consciousness and allow readers to connect to poetry in a simple, unique way. The contrast between the current social climate and her simple diction renders her work even more special and her prize well-deserved.