What I’m Reading: Winter Recipes From The Collective by Louise Gluck

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


Revisiting Adrienne Rich

It is with joy, deep interest, and widening curiosity that I am reading Hilary Holladay’s detailed, warm, and bird-on-the-shoulder biography of American poet, Adrienne Rich, The Power of Adrienne Rich (Talese 2020). It can be found here.

Rich, a Baltimore-born, Harvard-educated and half-Jewish poet and cultural thinker already was a famous American poet when I was born. I remember reading A Dream of a Common Language at 16 in high school, and can recall the feeling of it, though not really much of what I read into it. I enjoyed it; it struck me.

I ended up reading most of Adrienne Rich from her 1991 Atlas of a Difficult World onward and much of her other work too, over time, and it has influenced how I have thought about literature, myself, and the world.

I am now moving through Rich’s Collected Poems in tandem with this biography. Holladay helps one see Rich from her own perspective, that is, as she grew into the person, poet, intellectual, wife, widow, feminist, etc. Likewise, Holladay’s biography traces the changing cultural and literary and political landscapes that Rich navigated. From Rich’s 1951 first book to her 2012 final collection, Tonight No Poetry Will Serve, the world has changed and Rich embodies one version of the cutting edge of it.


G. H. Mosson


What I’m Still Still Reading: Les Miserables

Well, I am on page 1226 of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables. With some effort, I will finish this just over the six month mark. I know I began it in 2023, in the wonderful Penguin Classics paperback translated, unabridged version. On this blog in March, I remarked I was a 1/3rd through.

What to say of this sprawling masterpiece? On one level, that begs the question, what is a masterpiece?

An Intimate Epic:

I feel like I’ve met Victor Hugo while also reading a vivid saga. I’ve lived with Hugo at times, as a house guest. Sometimes it’s been my house, sometimes his mind. I’ve heard his detailed thoughts on living and the French Revolution, on 19th century progress, on what makes him shudder and chuckle, of mistaken customs and some worth not throwing away, and all in a novel that ranges in essence from the French Revolution of 1789 to the publication of this book in 1862. Of course, the story of Les Miserables occurs in medias res of these bookends. At the same time, Hugo himself as the narrator is providing his up-to-date thoughts; he himself is just as palpable as Jean Valjean and the more lucky Cosette, two characters.

Jean Valjean makes his luck, doesn’t he? He does this through strength of will, strength of character, and as Victor Hugo clearly pens it, by doing god’s work on earth. What is that? Well in the middle of the novel, Jean Valjean has a choice to remain a small-town mayor and live out his life to a comfortable old age, or reveal to the police they have mistaken some hobo for him and will condemn that hobo to a life in prison. Valjean paces and paces in his modest grotto, and then speechlessly journeys to the trial and reveals his identity and so saves this unknown decrepit person who does not even understand what’s happening.

As Hugo says on p. 1186 of the Penguin Classics version, “God, always within man and, being the true conscience, defying the false, forbidding the spark to die out, commanding the ray to remember the sun, directing the soul to recognize the real absolute, inalienable humanity, unallowable human feeling, that splendid phenomenon, perhaps the finest of all our inner marvels – did Javert understand this?”

It’s doing the right thing: not easy sometimes to see, not easy sometimes to feel, and not easy sometimes to accept. That detailed scene of pacing alone, such a masterpiece!

The Denouement:

Well, I just finished Jean Valjean’s trudge through the sewers after the barricade falls with the wounded Marius, to save Marius, and finished the famous final scene of Inspector Javert who plunges into the river when he cannot reconcile his worldview with this heroic kindness – as he sees it – by a former criminal, Valjean. Of course, to get this far, I have read Hugo’s recounting of the Battle of Waterloo, a history of a convent, Hugo’s revolutionary and political philosophy, and I must admit, skimmed the history of the Paris sewage system. On p. 1219, he pokes fun at the modern marriage ceremony at hotels, and offers a sharp insight on why it’s best as a family affair, in a family home. There’s the novel plot too.

All in all, Les Miserables is not an ordinary novel of a tale told. The 40 or so page Waterloo reenactment is fascinating. After 40 so pages on the extreme yet earnest convent, Jean Valjean enters it to hide. He enters it and its history.

Closing Thoughts:

In 1862 when Hugo published this novel from exile, he was absolutely speaking to the French people who had lived through the events of this novel, and whose elders if still alive lived through how it all started; Hugo’s framing, explaining, lamenting, sympathizing, detailing. In the end, he’s against misery and poverty and for humanistic progress and a spiritual basis for living well.

In between, I’ve also read Barbara Kingslover’s wowing Poisonwood Bible, Tara Ison’s macabre and hilarious short stories in Ball, started Philip Levine’s bitter, mind-blowing New Selected Poems (1991), and finished Vermont poet Diana Whitney’s granular, charged Wanting It.

Soon, Hugo will land on a shelf. When that happens, I will miss it, admire it, and will embody and carry some of it onward.


G. H. Mosson


What I’m Still Reading: Collected Poems (1938) by e. e. cummings

I have been reading this early Collected Poems for some time now since reading a short biography and in a pretty cool edition, a hardcover from around the 1950s or so. About two thirds through, I have a better feel and more respect for the ticklish delight and breezy whimsy of this delicate everyman, yet poet’s poet, known as e. e. cummings.

This morning, I finished poem “189,” which ends his fourth book. At some point I’ll dip into his 1931 fifth, “W.” He just finished the fourth book with a sonnet (#189). In fact, his first four books all end with sonnets. What a ‘cat serious’ and yummy way for a poet playful and romantic as cummings to end with an experimental take on the formal and argumentative Shakespearean sonnet. Of course, each has his still unique twist.

cummings is without doubt a poet of love and sexuality. He’s a poet of a sideways glance. He’s a NYC poet too, a cosmopolitan with down to earth habits. He’s got hands in his pockets and stars in his eyes.


G. H. Mosson


What I’m Still Reading: Les Miserables

I’m 1/3rd through the 1500-pager, Les Miserables, by Victor Hugo. It’s such a great read, equal to the patience required to read it, and paying back exponentially. It’s an unforgettable reading experience, and one that will delight people who might be called spiritual enlightenment thinkers, and friends of same who have a positivist and spiritual outlook. I fall into one of these cohorts.

Hugo’s characters are unforgettable and guiding lights, including the bishop who gets a 40-plus-page descriptive treatment in Hugo to set up his act of enormous compassionate generosity. This act, which is in the musical too, changes and saves the life of uneducated and suffering convict Jean Valjean, who of course becomes as a result, more grounded in himself and the world, and a hero.

I’ve always loved the Broadway musical. In 2022, I rediscovered after forgetting about it, first on CD in my home, and then through DVDs checked out of the library, and on. I’m glad to be inspired by it still. The singing drove me this time to the book. The musical remains an amazing synthesis of the essence. The bishop has about 30 seconds in the show and about 100 pages in Hugo. The song sung gets it right. This being said, the fuller treatment is unforgettable in a more epic and deeper manner.

As Hugo says toward the end of this first third of the way, his story is the divine as it shines through the faces of the world. The characters are secondary. This may be one large difference between at least the first third of Hugo’s masterpiece and the musical, which is more offers a solidarity feeling than at least the opening 1/3rd of the novel. It’s clear too Hugo is responding back to Voltaire, and in fact addresses it directly, parsing Voltaire as anti-religious institution but not anti-spiritual. It’s a concern of Hugo in 1860s likely more present, arguably, then at issue in 1980s context of the London and Broadway show when the show debuted. In the end, these various points of view unite in the novel and musical in a demand for treating people with minimum respect in the context of war, rough inequalities, and a dog-eat-dog world.

Hugo also said the above comment on his novel to justify his forty or so pages devoted to describing the nunnery, its history, practices, events, tidbits, devotions, self-tortures, oddities, endearments, and relationships, where Jean Valjean hides and lives for the next decade or so. I haven’t progressed much further, and I am taking a break before plunging into the mid-19th century, student-led Paris revolt.

Praise to Victor Hugo, a master among masters. Like Phillip Roth said of Charles Dickens (in one of his novels through a mouthpiece of a character, and I paraphrase), what a heart!


G. H. Mosson


What I’m Reading: Keep Moving by Maggie Smith

Ohio poet Maggie Smith’s 2020 book of sayings has been a refreshing and inspirational and cheering-on ride. Smith’s series of positive thinking slogans, so to speak, arose from her own divorce situation, some of the book end explanations state, and it shows up in these personal vignettes sprinkled throughout.

I cannot say I was as taken with the short confessional reflects as Smith’s concise wise coins of words. I enjoyed reading evocations. For instance, she says:

“It is not your job to make other people comfortable with who you are. Be wary of those who do not want you to change or grow. Grow anyway–there is no alternative.”

Keep Moving

Maggie Smith

Simon Schuster 2020

As the poet says throughout, be compassionate toward yourself and others, and “keep moving.”


G. H. Mosson


What I’m Reading: Les Miserables

I have always loved the Broadway musical, which I rediscovered after forgetting about it, in 2022, first on CD, and then through DVDs checked out of the library. It’s an inspiring musical and I’m glad to be inspired by it still. The singing drove me this time to the book, which I’ll be reading for quite a while. I’m 1/3rd through the 1500 pager by Victor Hugo.

As Hugo says in what I just read, his story is the divine as it shines through the faces of the world. The characters are secondary. I think he also said this to justify his twenty to forty pages on describing the nunnery, its history, practices, events, tidbits, devotions, self-tortures, where Jean Valjean is right now hiding out in the spot where I’m impinged in the narrative. Well, I can’t say I have enjoyed this interlude as much as the Battle of Waterloo earlier. At the same time, I’m edified by it.

Praise to Victor Hugo, a master among masters. Like Phillip Roth said of Charles Dickens (in one of his novels through a mouthpiece of a character, and I paraphrase), what a heart! It’s an unforgettable journey and I can’t wait for it not to end. Except, for me, when it does end, it’s the sort of book that will travel with me . . . which will help me see what comes up a bit better . . . a beneficial reference . . . and make choices.


G. H. Mosson


Bonnie Raitt’s “Just Like That” (2023)

We live at such a fast clip, it feels, because of the amount of information many of us have to deal with in this Internet and smart phone era. Still just like that, Bonnie Raitt’s song of the same name won a Grammy for best US song of the year.

It’s cool when such a pared down, bone deep folk song about one person’s struggle, and really just one crucial moment in a day of their life told to sweet rhythmic guitar picking–can win song of the year. Cutting through both high production and the noise, that award in fact turned me onto the song.

Raitt of course is a classic at this point. For now the song, Just Like That, can be found online here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Skd0XR3twCA. It might be elsewhere too. Check it out.


G. H. Mosson