American poet Louise Glück’s Nobel Prize in Literature triumph has set the cat among the literary pigeons. The novelists don’t know what to make of it. It had all gone according to script thus far. They’d studied past winners of the major book prizes over the preceding this-many decades. Compiled a sturdy list of dos and don’ts. Calculated, with scientific precision, the markers needed to elevate a literary career from the merely great to the fairly stratospheric.
And to round things off nicely, had come up with this—books, a shelf, and a career dappled with pathos, empathy, requisite rage, a dash of magic realism, and liberal sprinklings of colonial residues—a near failsafe algorithm meant to guarantee a shot at one of the big ones. And then a poet goes and wins the Nobel Prize in Literature.
As a writer of both poetry and fiction, my situation is a touch more delicate, having to empathise and down a drink or two with the odd writer wanting to drown his or her sorrows, while savouring the glory of a poet finding her home among the pines. Make no mistake, though my literary passions are shared quite proportionately between the two, it is poetry that has always held my heart, dancing me into the quietude of a moment or tip-toeing me into the exhilaration of discovery.
In all honesty though, this particular award could bear very little begrudging from any quarter, owing to the writer in question. Glück’s has been a career of uncommon grace and fierce poetic splendour, the 77-year-old moving with ease from the minutiae and sparseness of family life to the wider sweep of reworked Greek and Roman mythologies.
Her twelve collections and two chapbooks of poetry thus far have been exercises in the majesty of the poetic word. In scarce, lucid tones, Glück hints at the restlessness that tugs away at us all—whether in the solitariness of our personal lives or in our examinations of the fabular. This recognition of her poetic scavenging of desolations seems especially judicious given this, our year of aloneness, and yes, frequent hopelessness.
Reading her Pulitzer-winning The Wild Iris many years ago, I was struck still by the fact that Ithen, a young man living in an entirely different part of the world, could find allied hopes and shared fears
in her, a middle-aged American poet using an economy of words to convey an entire ocean.
We look at the world once, in childhood/ The rest is memory, Glück writes in ‘Nostos’, from Meadowlands. For this line alone, the Nobel victory is befitting.Just don’t bother telling the novelists.
Siddharth Dasgupta Poet and novelist firstname.lastname@example.org