Averno Poems

Louise Glück

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

96 Pages



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A National Book Award FinalistA New York Times Notable Book of the YearWinner of the Ambassador Book Award Averno is a small crater lake in southern Italy, regarded by the ancient Romans as the entrance to the underworld. That place gives its name to Louise Glück's eleventh collection: in a landscape turned irretrievably to winter, it is the only source of heat and light, a gate or passageway that invites traffic between worlds while at the same time opposing their reconciliation. Averno is an extended lamentation, its long, restless poems no less spellbinding for being without plot or hope, no less ravishing for being savage, grief-stricken. What Averno provides is not a map to a point of arrival or departure, but a diagram of where we are, the harrowing, enduring presence, in which the ecstatic and the inevitable are irrevocably fused.


Praise for Averno

"Lago D'Averno (Avernus in Latin) is a volcanic crater lake, 10 miles west of Naples . . . The formal entrance of to the underworld was in a nearby cave . . . In The Aeneid, Virgil catalogs some of the monsters (Gorgons, Harpies, the Chimera) and other fearsome figures gathered there: Grief, Disease, and Discord, all of whom, in various guises, makes appearances in Louise Glück's brilliant new collection, Averno. Before and after Virgil, a long line of poets, epic and lyric, have chronicled perilous journeys to the underworld, traveling deeply to bring back its true booty—not Hades' gems, but the darkly glittered poems inspired by his queen, Persephone. Glück has earned a place in that distinguished company of chthonic poets . . . Averno may be her masterpiece. Certainly it demonstrates that she is writing at the peak of her powers . . . The 18 poems in Averno, rich and resonant—with intricately linked imagery, overlapping themes, recurring characters—form a unified collection, but one in which each part never fails to speak for the whole."—Nicholas Christopher, The New York Times Book Review
"Few poets can shoulder the weight of myth the way Glück does . . . The poems brilliantly display a poet's insight, a mother's warmth, and a mortal's empathy. There is wry humor, too, and, amid much that is dark, there are fragments of hope."—The New Yorker
"The true subject of Averno . . . is the soul's journey. As for her poetry, it continues to surprise and be beautiful."—Charles Simic, New York Review of Books
"Glück, whose numerous books of poetry include the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Wild Iris, writes with an aching precision in these spare and elegant pieces."—Elizabeth Hoover, Los Angeles Book Review
"A poet of taut intensities, [Glück] walks a high-wire between the oracular and everyday, the absolute and the ephemeral . . . She interrogates the world and finds it inadequate to the mind; and like the Romantics at their most skeptical and chastened, she treats myths not as consolations but as probes for thought . . . Glück's death-haunted poems are electrically alive [and] often stationed in interzones or on thresholds . . . The fusion of ancient and modern is haunting and exhilarating. 'Make it new,' Ezra Pound said. She has."—Maureen N. McLane, The Washington Post Book World
"Averno feels made from experience, as though Glück had gone down to the underworld herself to confirm what we all know to be true."—John Freeman, The Phoenix
“In an age of facts, it’s easy to lose touch with the art of invention. In Gluck’s poetry, you can almost hear the sound of language cascading, trying to find a place in the world. At times, it is as though the myths were reinventing language itself. That it is done with such simplicity, and so delicately, is what makes her work so vital.”—Dionisio Martinez, The Miami Herald

“Glück amazes by fulfilling a command that must become more ironic every time it gets repeated . . . In ‘Prism,’ the speaker catalogues the stock fall-in-love-get-married story of her girlhood, explaining how ‘Time was experienced / less as narrative then ritual. / What was repeated has weight.’ This describes the movement of Averno itself; despite a skepticism about easy repetition, the work circles upon itself; despite a skepticism about easy repetition, the work circles upon itself in a kind of lyrical reinvention of ritual reminiscent of H.D., whose poetry haunts Averno’s crisp classicism and its exploration of personal trauma, especially in terms of gender, female sexuality and male power . . . Repetition with a difference defines not only the collection’s lyrical process but its overall structure: Averno presents a series of alternative tellings and analyses of the Persephone myth situated like pillars throughout. The other poems weave among these stately considerations with their own call and response about the problems the myth sets in motion . . . Glück masterfully establishes and ponders equations between her key terms: death, sex, girlhood, hell . . . Glück’s clean, syntactically and conceptually discrete stanzas seem suspended in, separated by, time, as though between stanzas the reader sleeps and awakens into the new stanzas with a sense of bewildered semi-coherence, emerging into a different section of conversation, a different psychological or analytical angle or fragment.”—Christopher Matthews, Shenandoah

"Louise Glück's. . . 10th book of verse is a haunting sequence blending the archetypal and mythic with the obliquely personal. Its strongest effects emanate from its meditations on mother-daughter dynamics and the guilty, deathlike loss of girlhood."—Ron Smith, Richmond Times Dispatch
"Poet laureate Glück's new work is not just heartbreaking, playful, mythical, and lyric poetry of the highest order—it is visionary literature. The title poem (particularly its first section) is one of the best pieces Glück—or, for that matter, anyone writing in English today—has produced; it will break your heart every time you read it but also affirm you in the toughest moments. Hundreds of teachers across the country (including this reviewer) will be sharing it with their students. Few American authors have written eloquently about old age, but Glück, now in her sixties, does a splendid job ('I can finally say/ long ago; it gives me considerable pleasure'), investigating matters of the soul ('I put the book aside. What is a soul?') as it finds itself within an increasingly frail body and yet remains unrepentant ('You die when your spirit dies./ Otherwise you live'). As with almost all of Glück's recent collections, this book is a single sequence, where the poems work together making a whole: an aging soul's lyrical book of days. Once again, the author is obsessed with myth: this time she focuses on Persephone and the landscape of Averno, a small crater lake that the ancient Romans saw as the entrance to the underworld. But what makes this new collection so special is that its most successful poems combine two very different elements of her previous collections—the playful tone of Meadowlands and the illuminating moments of Vita Nova—that rarely coexist in poetry and have never before come together as smoothly and effortlessly in Glück's own work as they do here. When Glück takes a broader look, the scope can be truly epical; when she looks inward you can sometimes hear your own voice. And her tenderness is breathtaking ('to hear the quiet breathing that says/ I am alive, that means also /you are alive, because you hear me'). Strongly recommended for all poetry collections."—Ilya Kaminsky, Library Journal
"In a collection as good as her Pulitzer Prize-winning The Wild Iris, Glück gives the Persephone myth a staggering new meaning, casting that forlorn daughter as a soul caught in 'an argument between the mother and the lover.' Taken from Demeter, her possessive earth-goddess mother, and raped, kidnapped and wed by Hades, Persephone now faces the insatiable demands of both. In 17 multi-part lyrics centered in her familiar quatrains, Glück traces Persephone's arc from innocence to, unhappily, experience: 'This is the light of autumn,' she writes in 'October,' 'not the light that says/ I am reborn.' Two poems entitled 'Persephone the Wanderer' flesh out her predicament ('What will you do/ when it is your turn in the field with the god?') and the self-deceiving responses ('you will forget everything:/ those fields of ice will be/ the meadows of Elysium') that drive the book. In between, scenes from a contemporary life ('"You girls," my mother said, "should marry / someone like your father"') parallel the unfolding myth, with Demeter coming to represent the body's desire to remain unchanged, or untouched, by love or death. That it turns out to be impossible is just another of the dilemmas brilliantly and unflinching dramatized in this icy, intense book. Empathic and unforgiving, the voice that unifies Persephone's despondent homelessness, Demeter's rageful mothering and Hades's smitten jealousy is unique in recent poetry, and reveals the flawed humanity of the divine."—Publishers Weekly

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Louise Glück has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Bollingen Prize, and is the former Poet Laureate of the United States. She teaches at Yale University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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  • Louise Glück

  • Louise Glück is the author of eleven books of poems and a collection of essays. Her many awards include the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Bollingen Prize, and the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets. She teaches at Yale University and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

  • Louise Glück (c) Katherine Wolkoff