<p. 137> “World Breaking Apart” by Louise Glück (“Poems 1962-2012,” 2012)
I don’t care if this post is preposterously long. It’s a barbaric yawp anyway. My original title for a comment about “World Breaking Apart” was “Inconclusive Antecedence.” It was another glib title masking with gobbledygook how puny I feel up against poetry like Louise Glück’s. I was going to dwell on how her poem pivots on an ambiguity of reference for the pronoun “them” when it says “I saw them come apart,.” leaving me in a perplexed limbo of sorts. Yes, that’s me, gasping for sense with words.
I try to affect a certain erudition here. The truth is I know a little about a few things that matter to fewer persons, but where poetry is concerned I feel unfit for it, not up to it, stranded by it, uncertain and afraid of not getting it as I sit, not in a dive, but in my shed on a floodplain of the Guadalupe. There, you see? I’ve signaled obliquely and as if casually that I’ve read a poem by W. H. Auden — it’s part of the pose I adopt. I can say truthfully that I have liked that poem enough to commit it to memory for a time, along with a few others. But as it happens, all my loves are by poets who antedate me by lifetimes, and all, as it happens, have been canonized already, if that word means endorsed by the reading establishment that broadcasts from academies and congresses.
Faced with poetry written by people who are alive now (January 14, 2022), I’m mostly lost at so many levels. And Louise Glück is a living breathing eminence! She teaches in the finest schools and is crowned with every title known to American poetry, most recently the Nobel. If I’m lost by a distinguished voice of my own time and place, I must be truly unfindable. Thomas Lux broke my spirit last night when he introduced her in a recorded reading I stumbled upon. He called her uncompromising and full of mystery, saying mystery is what he wants in poetry. He was a poet himself (rest in peace) and must know, but I’m swamped by mystery at the moment. I could do with some dots that connect without my impotently busting a gut over them.
I’m a proud man. I’d like my poetic lostness to sound sophisticated and serenely cocky, as if the genre somehow owes me something, but in plain terms I simply don’t know what her poems mean. I don’t know what they say. I don’t know what their intention is. I don’t know what I should feel or what heightened awareness I should possess after reading them. I don’t understand them. What I do feel is cowed and whipped, guilty and ashamed at not experiencing the kind of pleasure meant to be gained from the reading of them. The poems help me feel helpless and inferior intellectually, culturally, emotionally, and whatever more freight train of adverbs can be appended to bellyaching. Have you noticed how I didn’t mention the title of Auden’s poem above? It’s a trick of dismissive nonchalance I’m learning from reading poetry: if you have to ask, you can’t afford the question, you’re not an insider to the allusion. I’m forever grateful to Auden for using two words — uncertain and afraid — that mean what they goddamn say. The swear word and disobliging sarcasm I end with here are a sign of how angry I am at Louise Glück (not personally) and at myself for reading her so ineffectually.
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