A Village Life Poems

Louise Glück

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

80 Pages



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A National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist
Shortlisted for Griffin Poetry Prize

A Village Life, Louise Glück's eleventh collection of poems, begins in the topography of a village, a Mediterranean world of no definite moment or place:

All the roads in the village unite at the fountain.
Avenue of Liberty, Avenue of the Acacia Trees—
The fountain rises at the center of the plaza;
on sunny days, rainbows in the piss of the cherub.
—from "tributaries"

Around the fountain are concentric circles of figures, organized by age and in degrees of distance: fields, a river, and, like the fountain's opposite, a mountain. Human time superimposed on geologic time, all taken in at a glance, without any undue sensation of speed.

Glück has been known as a lyrical and dramatic poet; since Ararat, she has shaped her austere intensities into book-length sequences. Here, for the first time, she speaks as "the type of describing, supervising intelligence found in novels rather than poetry," as Langdon Hammer has written of her long lines—expansive, fluent, and full—manifesting a calm omniscience. While Glück's manner is novelistic, she focuses not on action but on pauses and intervals, moments of suspension (rather than suspense), in a dreamlike present tense in which poetic speculation and reflection are possible.


Praise for A Village Life

"When I tell you that Louise Glück's A Village Life is a book of poems set in a quietly dying agricultural community, probably in Italy, probably some time between the 1950s and today, and that its plots—for it works very much like a collection of linked short stories—revolve around sexual awakening, farm work and old men gossiping in cafes, you will no doubt think: wistful, polite, conservative, the poetic equivalent of a landscape done in watercolor. But that would be dead wrong, as a poem titled 'Pastoral' makes clear. Though it opens with an image, gentle enough, of the sun coming up over a mountain on a misty morning, 'Pastoral' swiftly turns severe: 'The sun burns its way through, / like the mind defeating stupidity.' Then, as the meadow we expect from the title is revealed, the speaker of the poem declares, 'No one really understands / the savagery of this place, / the way it kills people for no reason, / just to keep in practice.' Not many poets can be electrifying while keeping the stakes this hypothermically low. Glück is a master, finely calibrating the shocks and their intervals. This collection, her 11th, is frightening the way a living statue would be frightening if it were to smile at you . . . Ordinariness is part of the risk of these poems; in them, Glück hazards, and dodges, sentimentality. The near miss makes us shiver. It is typical of Glück—whose exquisite 1992 book The Wild Iris was composed mostly of dramatic monologues delivered by the flowers and weeds in a Northeastern garden—that she has created a coherent world here, with loosely connected characters operating in a discrete physical environment. The primary mise-en-scène of A Village Life takes place around a fountain, described in the poem 'Tributaries' as the orienting point where '[a]ll the roads in the village unite.' The fountain is a potent symbol for creativity, renewal and even, as Glück's choice of verb suggests, the center of the universe. It is a setting brimming with received meaning. Her deflating, laconic wit sets to work on this almost at once."—Dana Goodyear, Los Angeles Times

"In A Village Life, Louise Glück presents us with a choir of voices whose song enacts and contemplates our human quest for the very happiness that—as if instinctively—we refuse. The result is a restlessness that seems never to leave us, as Glück suggests in ‘In the Café': ‘It's natural to be tired of earth./When you've been dead this long, you'll probably be tired of heaven./You do what you can do in a place/but after a while you exhaust that place,/so you long for rescue.' This clarity of wisdom everywhere punctuates these poems which, even as they concern restlessness, are cast in long lines shot through with imagery of pristine, archetypal simplicity producing a cinematic stillness; one thinks of the camera in a Bergman film. The tension between that stillness and the subject of restlessness produces a resonance that builds even as it shifts like thought, like the light and dark that constantly fall across the village itself. As for the village, it seems ultimately to be the human spirit itself, replete with hopes realized and dashed, dreams without resolution, memories to which we return, often enough, to our regret, and too late. A Village Life is a tour-de-force of imagination and artistry, and shows Glück putting her considerable powers to new challenges."—The Griffin Trust

"Though it resembles her others least, A Village Life may come to be seen as Glück's most beautiful and moving book so far . . . [It] shows a ripening of Glück's genius, her mastery for depicting the things of this earth . . . [and] can be seen as the work of a master poet who has done what many poets long to do: she has written about death immortally."—Adam Fitzgerald, Rain Taxi

"A Village Life magnificently extends the landscapes, the harmonics, and the dramatis personae of Averno . . . More than any of Glück's previous volumes, A Village Life has a generous heart, a large spiritual scope in which to imagine the lives of others."—Rosanna Warren, The New Republic

"Here is a poet at the unmistakable peak of her expressive power and experience . . . The characters in A Village Life do what the voice tells them. ‘It says forget, you forget. / It says begin again, you begin again.' Louise Glück begins again, unforgettably, in this profound new collection of poems."—Carol Muske-Dukes, Huffington Post

"This 11th book of verse by Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Louise Glück offers beautiful language with a sense of loss and disappointment . . . The poems in A Village Life combine the intensity of her early work and the longer lines and insight of more recent books. The writing is often hauntingly beautiful . . . There are stanzas where Glück makes her landscape seem so radiant or exquisite that you don't want to turn the page."—Elizabeth Lund, The Christian Science Monitor

"Like Cavafy's persona pieces, the real subject of these poems is often a particular mood, not the transmission of details that distinguish, say, a child's voice from a farmer's . . . Glück lets us hear the silence that follows in the confessional. In my favorite poems in A Village Life, she also shows us what one who has heard that silence can now say."—Zach Savich, Kenyon Review

"Louise Glück is one of America's most famous poets, and one of the best . . . The fictions here are really a pretext for Glück to stage poems that explore, for the first time, material that is neither explicitly her own biography nor that of her mythical stand-ins. Always at the mercy of the Greek gods that inspired her earlier poems, Glück now is playing God herself."—Morgan Teicher, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • 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