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This article is taken from PN Review 125, Volume 25 Number 3, January - February 1999.

The Dark Garage with the Garbage: Louise Glück Steve Burt

Psychologists call it depressive realism: the notion, borne out by a raft of experiments, is that the clinically depressed are good at predicting what other people will do, because their divorce from their own hopes makes them able to see, and willing to describe, facts and emotions the rest of us block or deny. Depressive realism is the secret strength of Louise Glück's work: it is what connects Louise Glück's stark, straitened tones to the insights her poems contain. Her distance from those she describes (herself included) lets her see them with cold acuteness; coming to love a Glück poem means coming to empathize with the bitter selfconsciousness her skeletal arrangements reflect. Her poems go in fear of specifics, speeding from the personal anecdotes, myths, or scenes they sketch straight to their meanings. And this literal-mindedness - in diction as in approach - can command attention in its own right. As Maggie Tulliver explained in The Mill on the Floss, 'If we use common words on a great occasion, they are the more striking, because they are felt at once to have a particular meaning, like old banners or everyday clothes hung up in a sacred place.' Glück's best work from the '70s and '80s had precisely this effect: half the force of 'Mock Orange' springs from its apparent artlessness:

It is not the moon, I tell you.
It is these flowers
lighting the yard.

I hate them.
I hate them ...


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