Saturday poetry pick: Faithful and Virtuous Night

Louise Glück’s book Faithful and Virtuous Night just won the National Book Award–and you can read many reviews more finely tuned and insightful than what you’ll find here. But it’s always a pleasure to have a new book by a favorite poet, and so I’ve been looking forward to Glück’s collection.

I loved that the title is a pun–and at the same time, it can be a somber look back from life’s dusk too its lighter days, soft or under a harsh glare.

The speakers in Glück’s poems are philosophical, bold forays into abstraction, a tension between the narrative and the lyric, punctuated by her prose pieces. Themes recur–the light through blinds, the trains. People recur, relationships, and relationships with the past.

I appreciate the shifting identities–sometimes, the speaker might be Glück herself and the poem might be read as autobiographical, as memoir. Or it’s a woman–some other woman. Or we aren’t sure–a helpful reminder that poetry is not by default autobiography or documentary.

For other poems, Glück creates a mask–a man, a painter, the history and anxieties of his childhood, a story that threads through the poems in the book. Clearly a different persona, and yet the poems underscore how much we as humans, as creative people struggle, how we feel thwarted and yet somehow keep walking toward that faithful night.

To get you started (although it appears toward the end of the book): A Summer Garden–the text and a recording.