A Village Life, Louise Gluck, 2009

Gluck, a Vermont Pulitzer Prize winning poet now living in Cambridge and teaching at Yale, has written a hauntingly beautiful collection of poems ostensibly about life in a village perhaps in Italy with olive groves, mountains, a river.  Amidst elegiac descriptions of the natural setting, she focuses on the transition from an idyllic childhood to the reality of sexual awakening and the loss of innocence.  The realities of earning a living, making a disappointing marriage, and the other realities of adult life quickly intrude.  Loss, aging, and dying are the focus of several of the more beautiful poems.  Reading this across the road in Vermont at the base of Mt. Ascutney, I read “…The sun rises; the mist/dissipates to reveal/ an immense mountain.  You can see the peak,/ how white it is, even in summer.  And the sky’s so blue,/ punctuated with small pines/ the spears—-“.   The metaphor of the window and the person observing him/herself is powerful and frequently used:  “The fountain is for the young, who still want to look at themselves.”   The transition from childhood is powerfully portrayed in Noon: “Their thinking is, stay away from change.  It’s an avalanche—-/all the rocks sliding down the mountain, and the child standing underneath/just gets killed.”  and in Sunrise: “And if you missed a day, there was always the next,/and if you missed a year, it didn’t matter,/the hills weren’t going anywhere,/the thyme and rosemary kept coming back,/the sun kept rising, the bushes kept bearing fruit—“.  Unstated but clearly implied is the fact that while nature will always return, you will not.    Death and disappearance is powerfully shown in Walking at Night:  “When you look at a body you see a history./Once that body isn’t seen anymore,/the story it tried to tell gets lost—-“, and in A Slip of Paper:  “To get born, your body makes a pact with death/and from that moment, all it tries to do is cheat.”   All of the seasons get attention though burning leaves in the Fall is quite prominent:  ‘How fast it all goes, how fast the smoke clears./And where the pile of leaves was,/an emptiness that suddenly seems vast.”    Gluck has written that she writes poems ‘on a vertical axis of transcendence and grief’ very much in evidence in this, the 11th volume of poetry she has published.