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The First Five Books of Poems

Louise Glück

Cover Picture of The First Five Books of Poems
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Categories: 20th Century, American, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
Available as:
Paperback (244 pages)
(Pub. May 1997)
9781857543124
£18.95 £17.05
  • Description
  • Excerpt
  • Author
  • Awards
  • Reviews
  • Embracing in the road
    for some reason I no longer remember
    and then drawing apart, seeing
    that shape ahead -- how close was it?
    We looked up to where the hawk
    hovered with its kill; I watched them
    veering toward West Hill, casting
    their one shadow in the dirt, the all-inclusive
    shape of the predator --
    Then they disappeared. And I thought:
    one shadow. Like the one we made,
    you holding me.

                                                'Hawk's Shadow'

    Recipient of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2020

    In an essay Louise Gluck says that every end of a book is for her a 'conscious diagnostic act, a swearing off', in which she discerns the themes, habits and preoccupations of the previous volume as defining the tasks of the next.

    The First Five Books of Poems shows the poet in the conscious evolution she describes, marking time in changes. Readers will hear specifics of sequence: where the ferocious tension of her first book moves towards the finely-spun lyricism of the second. The nouns of that book acquire more intimate weight and become the icons of her third collection, then rise to an archetypal, mythic scale in the fourth. These poems are as various as the force of Gluck's intelligence is constant. The austerely beautiful voice that has become Gluck's' keynote speaks of a life lived in unflinching awareness.

    'She is a poet of enormous importance and intelligence,' wrote Bernard O'Donoghue in the Independent; 'we must not miss her.'

    The First Five Books of Poems includes Firstborn (1968), The House on Marshland (1975), Descending Figure (1980), The Triumph of Achilles (1985) and Ararat (1990).


    Louise Glűck is the author of twelve books of poems and two collections of essays. She received the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature "for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal." Her other awards include the National Humanities Medal, the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, ... read more
    Awards won by Louise Glück Short-listed, 2014 Forward Prize for Best Collection (Faithful and Virtuous Night) Short-listed, 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize (Faithful and Virtuous Night) Winner, 1993 Pulitzer Prize (The Wild Iris)
    Praise for Louise Glück 'Scraps of family intimacy float in, Gluck's touch sometimes so light it comes to us as a murmur in the ear...a brave book' 

    Dilys Wood, Artemis Poetry 

    'Glück's prose is simultaneously condensed, so that any one sentence takes time to properly unfold in the mind, and closely interwoven, so that highlighting a single sentence feels like doing violence to the intricate arguments her sentences form together... American Originality is a provocation and delight for anyone who takes writing seriously... It is an essential work by an essential artist.'

    Heather Cass White, Times Literary Supplement

    'Glück's talent is for saying the thing that might not feel true until it is put into words, as though we were on the therapist's couch. But she doesn't counsel or patronize - she's right on the couch next to the reader, hearing the lesson... Louise Glück has written some of the most incantatory, sorrowful, wrenching lyrics in American poetry. Her work is not for readers who want to be coddled, but for those who can apprehend that psychological dissonance, difficult as it may be to endure, is evidence of life.'

    Oluwaseun Olayiwola, Times Literary Supplement

    'Glück's poems in this collection are quietly compelling as they suggest stories of sorrow and loss which are fundamental to our shared human existence.'

    Kathleen Bell, The High Window

     'Glück's skill is Orpheus-like: to travel to hellish depths and find a way back again. As we journey through such dark territories, we are grateful for her insight.'

    Tanvi Roberts, Irish Times

    Glucks first collection since she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2020. Memories, absent voices and clocks speak of the passage of time, and of the loss and decay left in time's wake. Yet there is also acceptance, coping and - as the 'collective' of the title suggests - an invitation to those readers 'who will know what I mean'.

    Maria Crawford, Financial Times Best Poetry Books of 2021

    'Silence has been prominent in Glück's work for decades... The book is full of echoes of her earlier work, its winds (the breath of the void) and silence'

    Elisa Gabbert, New York Times

    'A slim volume of just 15 pieces, but like all the Nobel laureate's work, it punches above its apparent weight. Glück has always been a fastidiously exact truth-teller; her lucid poems pretend to a plainness that's really the simplicity of something more fully worked out than the rest of us can manage. It is a hallmark of late, great writing, as is the courage to go into the dark... We're back in the stylised, half-dreamed Glück landscapes that are rural equivalents of an Edward Hopper painting, and back with her astonishing poetry'

    Fiona Sampson, The Guardian
    'These essays constitute long-form extensions of Gluck's own poetic concerns... people familiar with Glück's poetry will recognise this hallmark astringency and its attendant whiplash wit'

    Dzifa Benson, The Poetry Review

    'Gluck's essays are delicate, tactful, self-aware and wry; her sense of humour is so understated that you might miss it if you think of her solely as a poet of tenacity and autumnal smokiness... Reading American Originality alongside her first essay collection, Proofs and Theories (1994), a portrait emerges of a wilful, embattled child who earned her stern serenity not only through loss but also through that miraculous state of grace that poetry can provide'

    Ange Mlinko, Literary Review

    'In this collection of sharply focussed and insightful essays one unifying theme emerges. Despite all the fads and fashions, the dead ends and new waves of poetry one thing survives, and that as she so vividly reminds us, is poetry'

    Roger Bloor, The Alchemy Spoon

    'Her writing's emotional and rhetorical intensity are beyond dispute. Not once in six books has she wavered from a formal seriousness, an unhurried sense of control and a starkness of expression that, like a scalpel, slices the mist dwelling between hope and pain.'
    Washington Post
    'Gluck stands at the centre of time and speaks, not with raw emotion or linguistic abandon, but with the ageless urgency of questions about the soul.'
    Partisan Review
    'Characteristically sure-footed, Glück speaks to our time in a voice that is onstage, but heard from the wings.'
    Publishers Weekly
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