In her Art of Poetry interview in our new Winter issue, Louise Glück expertly captures the psychodynamics between older poets and their perennially youthful students: “The younger person is reminding the older one of the early ferocity of their vocation,” she observes like a practiced analyst, while “the older person is a representative of stubbornness and persistence and sometimes a kind of majestic fatigue.”
Glück may not have assumed an air of majestic fatigue when I was her student in college three decades ago, but my classmates and I certainly all vied, often without success, to impress her with our ferocity. She was wry, unfazed by the world’s peculiarities—as I imagine she was in the first workshop she ever taught, at Goddard College in the sixties. “Goddard had a naked dorm and the class was held there,” she tells her interviewer, Henri Cole, “which didn’t mean my students were naked, but that the students who lived there were. When my class met, we would keep our clothes on, but it was weird to see these naked bodies going back and forth, not all of them fabulously beautiful, I might add, though they were all young.” I like to imagine the future Nobel laureate looking up from a page where some student had bared their soul to see others baring their bottoms out the window.
You can eavesdrop on the kind of advice Glück would give young writers, at once metaphysical and down-to-earth, in this issue: “Always, one thing to do, if you’re stuck, is to ask a question in the poem,” she reminds us. “A question shifts the mechanism of the poem.” For more insights into how poems happen, you can read our Making of a Poem feature with Farid Matuk, whose poem “Crease” you’ll also find in the issue. (“That near rhyme of love and of was tricky for me,” Matuk confides.) Or check out our Making of a Poem with the translator Aimee Chor, who brought Nadja Küchenmeister’s “feathers and planets” to our pages: “The English is in some ways very unlike the German,” Chor notes. “Wäscheständer does not sound like laundry rack, and quark is not really the same thing as cream.”
Also in our Winter poetry mix: more laundry, in Alice Notley’s “The Answer Is Awe”; three poems by Callie Siskel, another student of Glück’s; “defective goods” in Zheng Xiaoqiong’s “Water Becomes Water,” translated by Eleanor Goodman; a dead bird on a doorstep with “something / Moving inside of it,” brought to us by Dorothea Lasky; leporine fisticuffs, courtesy of Angela Ball; and an unsettling posthumous contract signed by Harryette Mullen, which concludes (hint hint) with the speaker’s promise “to pay tribute with offerings that confirm my commitment and extend my status as a faithful subscriber.”
Srikanth “Chicu” Reddy is the poetry editor of The Paris Review.