Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Poems in a series

I've been reading through more of Louise Glück's work, first Ararat, then The Wild Iris, Meadowlands, and now I'm starting Vita Nova. I admit I'm not reading as closely or carefully as I would like—that's a skill I'm still trying to build.

But I think I shall have to come back to The Wild Iris—even more than the others, it begs multiple readings. I'm intrigued with what she has done—and the way that she has extended it to a full-length book.

First, she has multiple conversations and angles going on, all focused around a central theme (Eden). In the book (if I'm reading this right), plants address people, and people address each other, and the sky addresses God. Sometimes, God (if I'm reading this right) addresses the reader, or the people. Interleaved between these poems are vignettes between members of Glück's family, as well as several poems titled "Matins" and several more titled "Vespers." At the same time, the book moves through the year—through spring and summer to Autumn.

I've struggled with writing full-length works. In my own one full-length manuscript, I have a collection of poems about Pandora, and then other poems mixed in, but they relate more in tone or in general idea (middle age!) than in actual theme. Chapbooks are a more natural length for me, and I'm impressed with the focus that Glück maintains, especially in this book.

I admit that I'm not entirely comfortable with Glück's voice (and here maybe I'm mixing in impressions from Meadowlands). Her poems are taut, or fraught, with a ferocious longing, all contained in an intellectual discourse. Generally, I prefer a little less discourse and more imagery. (Startle me!) But I'm intrigued and continue to believe that this work has much to teach me.

Have you written a full-length manuscript completely centered on one theme? How did you maintain the theme for that many poems without losing energy or focus? How did you vary the poems, vary the theme without losing it?

P.S. In this morning's Seattle P.I.: a nice write-up of Open Books.

No comments: