I have read and enjoyed Gluck before–my favorite book of hers is The Wild Iris–but as I’ve mentioned in previous poetry reviews, my tastes can change, or I can become antsy if it feels like a poet is treading familiar ground stylistically. This collection won the National Book Award for Poetry in 2014, so I began it hopefully.
The book of Gluck’s I was most immediately reminded of was A Village Life, my least favorite for its strangely nostalgic pastoralism whose tone I’m not sure I ever grasped. It’s hard to pinpoint what similarities I’m feeling; I can only say that Faithful and Virtuous Night was a decidedly better experience for me as a reader. Nature, spirituality, family–these are recurring themes in Gluck’s work. Here there’s also much to do with creativity, and the creative person’s life, especially as that life nears its end. The poems are often tender, but never maudlin; there are moments of great beauty, lines that stunned me right where I long for all poems to do.
The poems are lucid and narrative, and together it appears a larger story is being told, with possibly recurring personae (another book that popped into my head while reading: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life). There are also fable-like stories or mythologies throughout; together with the mentions of writing and (personal) history, the act of narrative or storytelling makes another significant theme.
Familiar themes like losing time and aging can be hard to make new for a reader; on one side there’s sentimentality, on the other, despair or cynicism. Gluck treads a careful path between the two, not exactly pining, not exactly comforting, but the poems’ beauty is its own comfort. I admire her, too, for writing narratively and clearly in a way that’s never boring or limp (I’ve come to value the lyric over the narrative; I would call these highly lyric narratives).
If you’re less familiar with poetry, Gluck is another great poet to begin with. If you’re in a contemplative space (mentally or physically), this would be a lovely companion.