By Robert Israel
The poems in Winter recipes from the collective is about living with life in a barren place; they make the kind of song Bertolt Brecht said was necessary when dealing with “the dark times.”
Winter recipes from the collective by Louise Glück, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 64 pages, $ 25.
Louise Glücks 13. digtbind, Winter recipes from the collective, requires to be read in a quiet room. So seek out a soothing hook if you can in these tumultuous times. Then sit down. Remove distractions from your mind and read her poems aloud. You can immediately notice, as one critic puts it, that her voice gives an “ice-cold precision.” I do not completely disagree with this assessment. But to feel her work that way is to sell her short. She is a masterful writer who enjoys weaving surprises into her poetry. She does not serve easy interpretations or practical summaries. And for a poet who is accused of being too tough for his own good, Glück often puzzles with warmth and humor, both qualities being abundantly expressed in this volume.
When you read her poems aloud, you may notice that she cuts back her words and removes them for decoration. She achieves what Robert Frost called “sentence sounds,” the kind that stem from the “brute tones in our human throats.” Glück uses this minimalist literary device throughout this sleek volume, her first since she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2020.
Glück’s depends on a kind of elemental density, often through vivid metaphorical descriptions, in ways reminiscent of the joking prose of the Danish author Isak Dinesen, whose ornate pictorial material comes with heavy moods:
Where, later in the poem, “older men and women cure” moss “with wild mustard and powerful herbs packed between the halves of ciabattin”? The sandwich does not sound appetizing. The poet gives no clues as to the location of this original dinner, creating a world that is a troubled mix of the distorted and the familiar.
Because Glück is interested in distorting life, it makes sense that in this collection she is attracted to the kind of storytelling that we appreciated as children, albeit in Grimm fashion. The poems here are fables where the forests are enchanting and mysterious and paths do not always lead to grandma’s house. In “A Children’s Story,” we learn that a “king and queen” who “rattles in the back of the car” gets tired of repeating what has become a singing conjugation. When the royal couple arrive at a state of ennui, they resign to endure “a sad day,” as “the day has come to pass.” Glück delivers the disturbing moral of the tale: “All hope is lost, / We must return to where it was lost if we are to find it again.” Perhaps the message reflects generational exhaustion: children should be aware of their parents’ fatigue because they will inherit a landscape of “cows and pastures” [that] drifting away, ”where nothing is safe or guaranteed. The next generation will have to use their powers to back up and pick up the pieces of a ruined world.
Perhaps the most accessible selection is a short poem entitled “President’s Day,” first published in New Yorker. The poet does not lead us down snake paths filled with threatening threats hiding in the overgrowth. Rather, she reports on a winter landscape that gives way to the first movements of the upcoming spring season. Heat is still a long way off – a leap of faith is required to imagine it coming soon. “I threw some snow over my shoulder,” writes Glück, “since I had no salt.” She longs for spring to come with “lots of good-natured sunshine everywhere.” She concludes, “How pleasing my head was when I sunbathed in it, first feeling it while my limbs waited.”
The poems in Winter recipes from the collective is about living with life in a barren place; they make the kind of song Bertolt Brecht said was necessary when dealing with “the dark times.” That is not to say that Glück does not occasionally give a fleeting sense of harmony, even joy. But that sense of elation depends on a leap of faith: hints of renewal face cold fronts of doubt.
Robert Israel can be contacted at email@example.com