An Aug. 29 Style article about poet laureate Louise Gluck should have said that she received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts rather than grants from the National Education Association. (Published 8/30/03)
The new U.S. poet laureate is Louise Elisabeth Gluck, an English professor who has traditionally shied away from the limelight.
The selection will be officially announced tomorrow by Librarian of Congress James H. Billington, who said in a statement that Gluck (rhymes with pick) will bring to the office "a strong, vivid, deep poetic voice."
Reached at her home in Cambridge, Mass., Gluck said that when she received the library's call, "to my surprise I didn't hesitate, even though I can't say I was unambivalently delighted. I have very little taste for public forums. "
But, she said, "I thought my life needed to be disturbed and surprised."
Because of that reticence, Gluck may prove to be a different kind of laureate from those of recent years. Outgoing laureate Billy Collins was, well, outgoing. "Some of us have chosen to spend a lot of time running around the country lighting poetry bonfires," Collins said. He added that he will be curious to see how Gluck will respond to the challenge. "The job can be tailored to each individual's personality," he said.
Gluck's poems are "strong, crafted, urgent," Collins said. "I think she's an excellent choice."
Yesterday she was feeling a little frazzled. "I hope, having agreed to do it, I may do an honorable job," she said, adding, "whatever that may be."
She prizes ordinary life, she said. And she was heartened by the knowledge that "many of the things poet laureates do are optional." She said she does not like to be photographed.
According to the Library of Congress Web site, she will be paid $35,000 for the one-year appointment. She is expected to read once at the beginning of her tenure, once at the end and to organize some kind of reading in between.
She also looks forward to handing out grants to young writers. "I know a lot of young writers who are working their butts off," she said.
Compared with the wry, witty poetry of Collins, Gluck said her poems are "probably more brutal, more disturbing, less readily accessible and charming."
Her favorite dead poets include T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams.
"I like writers whose successes are quixotic and partial," she said. "Some of their poems are messes and some are astonishing."
Born in New York on April 22, 1943, Gluck grew up on Long Island. Her father invented the X-Acto knife. She has a younger sister, Tereze, who is a Manhattan banker.
As a girl, Louise Gluck began writing poetry. She also became severely anorexic. "I was dangerously dysfunctional," she said. She found salvation on the couch of a psychoanalyst. She attended Sarah Lawrence College for a couple of months and Columbia University awhile, but never received a degree.
"I was too frightened to leave my doctor," she said. But psychoanalysis began to work for her. "Psychoanalysis was one of the great experiences of my life. It helps me live and it taught me to think."
She added: "I gradually moved out of a very private and controlled world and into a richer world of friendship and love and event."
One of her best friends is former poet laureate Robert Pinsky, whom she talks to nearly every day.
She has published nine volumes of poetry. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1993 for "The Wild Iris." She also won the National Book Critics Circle Award for her 1985 work "The Triumph of Achilles" and she has won a host of other prizes and honors, including Guggenheims, National Education Association grants and the Bollingen Prize. In 1994 she published "Proofs and Theories: Essays on Poetry." In the fall, Sarabande Books will publish "October," a poem in six parts that appeared in the New Yorker last year.
A professor at Williams College since 1983, she lives in Cambridge by herself. She teaches one semester a year. She makes the three-hour commute once a week and she has been staying with the same family in Williamstown for nearly 20 years.
She has two ex-husbands and a son, Noah, 30, who is a sommelier in San Francisco. Gluck said she likes a little wine herself every now and then. A Chateau Pavie Cheval Blanc is her preference.
Here's an excerpt from her 1986 poem, "Siren":
I became a criminal when I fell in love.
Before that I was a waitress.
I didn't want to go to Chicago with you.
I wanted to marry you, I wanted
Your wife to suffer.
I wanted her life to be like a play
In which all the parts are sad parts.
Does a good person
Think this way? I deserve
Credit for my courage . . .
She doesn't write every day. "I never have the faintest idea when I'm going to be writing," she said. "I sometimes write in seizures. I wrote three of my books very, very rapidly."
Gluck believes that "you just live your life and you hope that some poem demands to be written."
She added, "The worst thing I can do is just sit at a desk. It makes me anxious beyond words."
She will kick off the Library of Congress's reading series on Oct. 21 by reading from her own poetry. As the library's poetry maven, Gluck follows in the footsteps of great poets such as Randall Jarrell, Robert Frost, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wilbur, Rita Dove and Pinsky, who will read at the library on Oct. 22.
Gluck "is always a few jumps ahead of the cliche," Pinsky said. He has been struck by her "ruthless breathtaking originality."
Billy Collins praised the library for "its relative ability to include both sexes" in its appointments. He noted that Great Britain has had a poet laureateship for more than 300 years and has never appointed a woman.
He said, "The thing that poets need to do is avoid writing 'Poetry' with a capital P and in quotation marks. When we read a fresh voice like Louise Gluck's, we see that something new is going on. It's that stepping out from convention that makes her poetry exciting."
Her poetry, he said, "is really the release of accumulated misery."
Collins added: "I think of her as being like a masseuse-chiropractor who is able to find pain centers. Her poetry is often concerned with detecting centers of psychic pain."