The Millions

The Irreplaceable Human Voice: Louise Glück Gives Form to Devastation

As a Buddhist priest, I find in Louise Glück’s American Originality words for an increasingly bewildered and besotted country—a series of meditations on poetry’s power to orient, understand, heal, celebrate, and preserve the self’s “Individual, irreplaceable, human voice.”

1. America in Situ

Gluck’s America is “famously, a nation of escaped convicts, younger sons, persecuted minorities, and opportunists.”

Nursed on “images and narratives of self invention,” our invented selves are insecure. Stretched between the need for distinction on the one hand and corroboration on the other, Americans dart about, encumbered by a hustler-complex: “Under the brazen ‘I made up a self’ of the American myth, the sinister sotto voce, ‘I am a lie.’”

Thus the American is wonderfully original, aware of herself and her life as being both the origin—the place, the raw material from which she culls meaning—as well as the originator: the poet who mines herself, as it were, from nothing, to justify her purpose for being. This situation generates panic, as with Richard Siken, in whose poems (from Crush) “desperate garrulousness delays catastrophe…Everything is a trick…everything is art, technology—everything that is, can still change…”

Of those who face the apparently contradictory task of creating an original—primary and distinct—self while burdened by that self’s need for

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