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Vita Nova


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Louise Gluck won the Pulitzer Prize for "The Wild Iris" in 1993, and has received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry, the William Carlos Williams Award, and the PEN / Martha Albrand Award for Nonfiction.


Glck's ninth collection flips between the mythic utterances of her earlier work and the tragicomic personal realism of her most recent book, Meadowlands (LJ 3/15/96). A literal point of departure, Vita Nova picks up where Meadowlands left off: after a marital breakup, when single life in a new locale eerily recalls life before marriage. It is framed by two poems of the same name ("Vita Nova," of course)Äone spoken by Persephone, the other an ironic address concerning a dream, a divorce, and a dog named Blizzard: "Blizzard/ Daddy needs you/...the kind of love he wants Mommy/ doesn't have, Mommy's/ too ironicÄMommy wouldn't do/ the rhumba in the driveway." Glck's probing, intimate voice takes the reader hostage, and her quiet, bitter humor penetrates to the bone: "In the bathtub, I examine my body./ We're supposed to do that./...I was vigilant: when I touched myself/ I didn't feel anything." Abstract without being vague, personal without being maudlin, Glck's exquisitely crafted work continues to astound. For all poetry collections.ÄEllen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York

"Surely spring has been returned to me, this time/ not as a lover but a messenger of death, yet/ it is still spring, it is still meant tenderly." Reutrning to the seasonal myths inaugurated in her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Wild Iris (1992), Glück's new poems chronicle delvings-down and rebeginnings, very much in the way her last book, Meadowlands, took on autumns and endings. Her chosen myth is now Orpheus, her other new interests dreams, dream-states and fragmentary memories. Meadowlands had tracked the slow collapse of Glück's marriage; Vita Nova follows Glück into the aftermath: "I thought my life was over and my heart was broken./ Then I moved to Cambridge." (That is, Cambridge, Mass., where some of these poems, such as "Ellsworth Avenue," are set.) Glück has long mastered the bitter, detachable aphorism: "You saved me, you should remember me." "No one wants to be the muse;/ in the end, everyone wants to be Orpheus." To these she adds, now, the surprisingly conversational aside: "Mommy's/ too ironic‘Mommy wouldn't do/ the rhumba in the driveway." Glück also casts poems partly in dialogue, from the terse interrogator of "The Burning Heart" ("Ask her if she regrets anything") to "the leaves" of "Evening Prayers": "Bedtime, they whisper./ Time to begin lying." The poems rely on negative space‘on what's left out‘and on psychological acuity; their stripped-down self-analyses cast their cold illumination far past her own life. Glück's psychic wounds will impress new readers, but it is Glück's austere, demanding craft that makes much of this seventh collection equal the best of her previous work‘bitter, stark, careful, guiltily inward, alert to myth. It is astonishing in its self-knowledge, and above all, memorable. (Mar.)

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