Louise Gluck's poem,"Crater Lake",is cold as crypt marble. This is the second Louise Gluck poem that we've been presented within two months, and I'm more convinced than ever that she has even less useful things to say to the land of the living."Crater Lake" has all the symptoms of a writer who regards their thoughts, their thinking as so bracingly brilliant that they are not obliged to aid the reader in the slightest in figuring which end of this poem is up and which is down. Not that it really matters, though, since the effect here, as with her last poem published in Slate "A Myth of Innocence" [www.slate.com], is walking into a room in a large house thinking that it was empty and coming upon some there, alone, back turned as they gazed out the window, muttering phrases and broken references to themselves.
There was a war between good and evil.
We decided to call the body good.
That made death evil.
It turned the soul
against death completely.
You do get the feeling that there is a submerged attempt to marry myth archetypes with the sweltering and restless subconscious tensions that
confront us as we, a race, reconcile the glory and agony of love and death, but Gluck boils her worries to a rhythmless, unmusical sparseness. Think of that strident piano banging in Kubrick's most pretentious film Eyes Wide Shut; terse, strident cadences applied to a scenario of ritualized, debauched despair, pushed forth with a hardly an interesting nuance, phrase, image to part with and make us consider the further complications.
The pretentiousness comes in large measure from Gluck's glib and unconsidered use of Big Terms in an effort to make a reader pause and inspect a line for a profundity that isn't there. "Good and evil", "love", "death" , "love" are all dished out like portions of food you don't want to eat--eeeewwww, cooked carrots, liver, creamed corn, grossssssssss--and yet we have to read and digest on the sorry promise that it's good for us. Gluck, though, recedes into a vagueness here that commits the worse sin one can manage for an oblique poem; it provides you with no reward for reading it. There is a complete absence of euphony whatever and underscores the notion that the poem fails because it cannot sustain itself without knowledge of the myths Gluck is ostensibly deconstructing. It does, perhaps, fulfil a structural function with the single narrative which this poem is reported to be a part of, but the effect is lost here; we assume, the punch of this writing exists only its context with the other works that go with the storyline it obliquely refers to.
"A Myth of Innocence" [www.slate.com], which is lecturing, nearly hectoring, and weighed down by a ridiculous solemnity that reminds me of the pinched nerve seriousness of elder priests at mass whose ruthless lack of cheer or life would make a nine-year-old boy or girl want to liven things up with arm farts or gum popping. Gluck's writing is so weighted with unbelievably padded writing that it reads in slow motion, like a funeral march, through all the obvious paraphrases of overplayed myths and the cumbersome attempt to bring a universal concept into a private moment when one's loss becomes the sadness of the world.
She stands by the pool saying, from time to time,
I was abducted, but it sounds
wrong to her, nothing like what she felt.
Then she says, I was not abducted.
Then she says, I offered myself, I wanted
to escape my body. Even, sometimes,
I willed this. But ignorance
cannot will knowledge. Ignorance
wills something imagined, which it believes exists.
This syntax is tied into knots and hamstrung loops of unfulfilled metaphor and allusion that it makes you think of a distracted chef who cannot complete a single plate of palatable food. I get a strong feeling that this poem is likewise composed of scraps, items intended for more complete poems, wholly coherent and perhaps fresher in their utterance. So many indefinite and transcendental qualities zig-zag in this writing, mentions of myth, reflecting pools, a yearning for a younger self and an unassigned future. It's a traffic jam of references, not particularly musical or convincing beyond nudging a reader in the ribs.
This may be a poem that Gluck worked on quite a bit in order to give a semblance of poetic content, but no matter how she tailored her first draft the writing remains lifeless and unconvincing. I've written hundreds of poems that I hoped to make evocative with a mannered strangeness of phrase and allusion until I realized I had only produced a variety of convoluted poesy. Gluck should have cleared her palate, and gone for a simpler, less cluttered tongue to speak what her muse presents to her.