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This review is taken from PN Review 260, Volume 47 Number 6, July - August 2021.

Cover of American Originality
Valerie Duff-StrautmannThe Utility of Happiness
American Originality, Louise Glück (Carcanet) £14.99
Louise Glück, American author of twelve books of poetry, won the Nobel Prize for literature in 2020. This honour was bestowed not only for books of poems but also for two collections of essays: Proofs & Theories (1994) and American Originality (2017). Over the last half century, beginning with Firstborn, Glück’s books of poems have been published at intervals ranging from seven to two years, garnering much attention (including a Pulitzer for The Wild Iris); the two books of essays saw a gulf of over twenty years between them, despite acclaim for Proofs & Theories, which won the PEN/Martha Albrand award. What does American Originality offer, following so late on the heels of Proofs?

There’s notable similarity between these books; in both, one hears Glück discussing poetry as if to a group of fortunate students (she has been teaching poets almost as long as she’s been publishing). ‘American Narcissism’, ‘Ersatz Thought’, ‘On Buddenbrooks’, and ‘American Originality’ – the essays of Part One, academic even in title, each take the shape of a well-wrought lecture as Glück builds her thought and anticipates questions. These essays draw from a wealth of experience in the field – for example, in ‘On Originality’:

Under the brazen ‘I made up a self’ of the American myth, the sinister sotto voce, ‘I am a lie.’ […] The literary art of our time mirrors the invented man’s anxiety; it also affirms it. You are a fraud, it seems to say. You don’t even know how to read. And for writers, this curious incomprehension, ...

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