About A Village Life
Dana Levin: I wanted to start by asking about your new book, A Village Life, which is coming out this Fall. Time feels spatial in the book, as if all the book's varied voices are speaking, events are happening, in a simultaneous temporal moment.
Louise Glück: There's something very strange in these poems that I've been unable to put my finger on. It's certainly not a willed or deliberate quality, but it has to do with that simultaneity. And it strikes me that the book has something in common with "Landscape," a poem in Averno, in which the stages of a life are represented by individual sections, but the narrative elements and even the point of view shift from section to section—and yet what's represented is the whole of a life. It occurred to me that A Village Life engages that horrible axiom that, at the end of your life, as you're dying, the whole of your life floods back. That's what the book feels like to me: the whole of a life, but not progressive, not narrative: simultaneous. And there's no drama attendant in the idea of dying. It's beyond the drama of the forfeit of the world; it's just a long exhalation.
DL: What did the book teach you aesthetically?
LG: I think I won't even know until I try to do something else. I remember talking to Richard Siken after Averno. I wasn't writing, and I was beginning to fret about it. I go through periods—long periods—of not writing. And sometimes that's not the focus of my anxiety. It's not that I am without anxiety, it's that my anxiety is in some other place; then all of a sudden I become preoccupied with my silence and quite panicky. I was entering that period and Richard said, 'Your next book has to be completely different, just sort of playing in the mud.' And that was exactly my feeling, that I had done everything I could do at the moment with poems operating on a vertical axis of transcendence and grief. And this new manuscript had to be more panoramic, somehow, and casual, with a kind of unbeautiful surface. So it taught me how to write an unbeautiful surface. What a triumph. [sardonic laugh]
Just to be able to write a longer poem, I think, was interesting… I had tremendous pleasure writing these poems. I loved being in that world. And I could get there almost without effort. Well, for a short period. You know, now I can't go…
Excerpted from issue 36 of American Poet, the Biannual Journal of the Academy of American Poets.