I have never read a book as ineffable as this slim and latest volume of poetry from the often tactile and emotionally poignant, Louise Gluck.
Like her prior two books, “Winter Recipes” (2022) as I will call it strains towards a unified narrative but does not quite get there. Gluck in all of these last three books, spanning 2014 to 2022, seems to wish to tell a fuller story but can’t quite release herself from lyric poetry of fragmented vignettes. As with each of these three books, I wish she had leaned further into this skeletal stage setting and went for an epic – even if it failed in the end. Of these three, her latest is even more fragmented, attenuated.
I rate A Village Life (2014) with its dominant sun and Faithful and Virtuous Night (2015) with its midnight musings and curiously romantic title well above her 2022 thinner volume with its ghostly disembodied voice and ineffable yet palpable impact. The first two are more robust, heartfelt, longer, better anchored in their locations, and offer a few emotional tones.
The scenery in “Winter Recipes,” for instance, might as well be invisible. I am not sure the snow appears, but overall the poems feel wintry, or just cold. Gluck has put together an eerie, ineffable atmospheric poetry. Yet in “Winter Recipes,” there is very little metaphor, simile, scene setting, or detailed inner drama. As a technical matter, one might call it a tour de force to make poetry out of such bare bones.
At the same time, there are gaping holes. For instance, the title of the book remains mysterious, especially for a poet as individualist as Gluck. She’s not cooking in these poems, either, in case you’re wondering. I think, dare I say it, “Winter Recipes” alone would have been a better title . . . while remaining ineffable.
If Gluck wishes to imply entering old age is a collective experience, because this Nobel Prize winning poet is older, well, that’s a reasonable interpretation of the full title. “Winter” can apply to the cold eye of these lyric poems. Recipes, well, I can’t quite say. Reading them, I might want to cook another dish, a warmer one. In the end, her title skates by on catch-all association, let me hazard. Literary critics at least will have something to chew on.
I could say more, I should say more, I won’t say more.
Overall to wrap this up, Gluck’s 2022 latest is a bit of a downer. I am not sure I will read it through a second time, which might help me glean more from it. Technically, there is much to learn from Gluck here, from what she does and does not use out of the toolbox, in these bare monologues of lyric poetry.
I’m glad to add, like a spice, Gluck’s humor can be sensed. It’s at the lowest winter glimmer of a flame. Still, the wry smile of Wild Iris (1993) and Meadowlands (1997) flits through these pages. It’s true, you’ve guessed it, those are my favorites.
G. H. Mosson