Finishing Louise Gluck's newest book Averno outside in the sultry Manhattan July heat, even if it was the sultry and sophisticated Gramercy Park heat, made me hotter. Gluck's poetry is pitched at hysterical. Everything in her world, or, in this case, the underworld to which Persephone is consigned, is bleak and dire. Death is everywhere.
Gluck uses the myth of Persephone and places her book at Averno, in Southern Italy, which the Romans considered the entrance to the underworld, to meditate on how one should endure, given the inevitability of obliteration--and further, whether there is a soul to persist after perdition.
I guess I'm just not that deep; or, at least, that's how Ms. Gluck makes me feel. Consider these lines on what it's like to fall in love: "Guilt? Terror? The fear of love? / These things he couldn't imagine; / no lover ever imagines them." How forboding. As though love _always_ brings terror. This kind of desperation is so hot as to be cold, as to give one the chills (you know how a fever can do that?). And it made me consider the difference between cold and cool.
Ms. Gluck is a cold poet. Some say she speaks "the truth"--but that's if the truth is icily fearsome. I guess I prefer poets who believe in heat and a reality that's warmly welcoming. Oddly, I think of these as cool poets; that is, they use form and decorum to shelter themselves from the wounds of searing passion--they trust passion, they just like to prepare themselves and be prudent in the face of its heat. Merrill, Auden, Stevens, these are the folks of whom I'm thinking. Like Mozart, they use linguistic sleights to tango with passion. With Gluck, on the other hand, you get the sense she's fucked passion and man, it's gotten her bad and now she's dead.
There's that death word again. One can see why it crops up so much. If the only alternative to disaster is hysteria, no wonder she'd rather put everything on ice. Still, I do trust her language. I do know she's in command, and while reading Averno, while I might not have relished it, in fact, while it might have put me in a bit of a funk, I did know it was the real thing--or at least, _a_ real thing: one way of looking at our world.