cover image American Originality: Essays on Poetry

American Originality: Essays on Poetry

Louise Glück. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (208p) ISBN 978-0-374-71675-2

In Glück’s second book of essays (after Proofs and Theories), she carefully considers the makeup of the American aesthetic as a doctor would diagnose a patient. She begins with pragmatism, noting that an alternative interpretation of “self-made” is to make oneself up; in other words, create a self that is a lie. In discussing contemporary poetic narcissism’s historical roots, Glück denounces weak imitations of Dickinson and Rilke. She explores uses of non sequitur, both effective, such as by Frank O’Hara, and ineffective, as vehicles for “intellectual fraud.” Glück’s characteristic wit and incisiveness are ever present. In highlighting C.K. Williams’s ability to contain multiple universes of alternate scenarios, she declares these poems to “have more other hands than a Hindu god.” In “Fear of Happiness,” Glück explores the artistic fixation on suffering, arguing that the artist who insists on pain as a prerequisite to creation is locked in a cycle of dependency and—even worse—banality. The middle section contains introductory essays culled from a decade of judging first-book poetry prizes, including illuminating analysis of Dana Levin, Richard Siken, and Jessica Fisher, among others. This is advanced literary theory, requiring careful reading and a fair amount of background knowledge of contemporary poetry, but Glück’s tone is conversational and accessible, and her opinions are invaluable. (Mar.)