Former poet laureate hosts reading in Ann Arbor
In a gallery inside the University’s Museum of Art, Louise Glück stood between two white sculptures, and read poetry that conjured images of the night sky, rain and the changing seasons.
Tuesday night, the Pulitzer Prize-winner and former United States Poet Laureate read a collection of her poetry for the Zell Visiting Writers Series, presented by the Helen Zell Writers’ Program. A reception and book signing followed the event.
Between poems, Glück shared some of the struggles she has faced in her professional career. She said during one low point in her writing, she sat at home reading plant catalogues to pass the time. Even so, she said this period was ultimately productive because later on it inspired a number of poems in her Pulitzer-winning book, “The Wild Iris.”
“It’s ... poems spoken by flowers, poems spoken by humans who are in conflict with each other, and poems spoken by some third celestial principle,” Glück said.
Glück advised poets to do what they want, even if it’s reading plant catalogues because, ultimately, this is how they will write poems of their own.
“You have to do what you want to do,” Glück said. “If you don’t do what you want to do, you will ever write poems that are yours alone to write.”
Glück read a number of poems from “The Wild Iris,” including “The Red Poppy.”
During the Q&A portion, an attendee sought advice for aspiring writers. Glück encouraged those interested in poetry and writing to read what they love and build a life they love.
“Read what you love,” she said. “You’re not going to be nourished by what you don’t love. Live the life that seems natural to you. That’s the hardest thing to learn.”
These words inspired strong emotion in LSA senior Maddy Rombes, who said she was nearly brought to tears by Glück’s words.
“She talked about doing what you love and not stressing too much about it,” Rombes said. “That’s been a recurring thought in my head, and that advice really resonated with me.”
Though the reading was open to the public, many of the attendees were faculty and students from the English Department and the Zell Program with previous exposure to her work.
LSA senior Marie Michels read a number of Glück’s pieces at the University’s New England Literature Program. Michels said she looked forward to hearing the poems in the author’s voice.
“I’m excited to see the person behind this work that I admire so much — to hear her voice and to be in the company of people who also really respect what she’s doing,” Michels said.
Hanna Poston, a Rackham student who is in her second year in the Zell Program and introduced Glück, talked about how Glück’s work inspires other writers.
“Fellow poets, through this work, I understand better what you are trying to do,” Poston said. “I understand better what I am trying to do.”
Poston added that Glück’s words bring hidden things to life.
“The brilliance of her vision and the brutal cadences of her lines are alive inside of us,” Poston said. “We’ve brought them into this room with us. Most of you know why you are here tonight.”
David Ward, Zell Program graduate and a lecturer in the English Department, said he admires Glück for her honesty and realism.
“The way she structured the reading in terms of giving us the arc of her life as a writer stuck out,” Ward said. “The way she came back to the idea of having down times where you’re not writing or working at all was a refreshing take on the creative process.”
Before the event, Marlin Jenkins, a Rackham student in the Zell Program, said he was looking forward to hearing Glück speak freely, outside of reading her poetry.
“I hope that she does interject to talk about the poems and her process as well as reading her poetry,” Jenkins said. “I hope to hear a little bit about who she is as an artist in a way you can’t get from the page.”
Catering to fans like Jenkins, on Thursday, Glück and Linda Gregerson, director of the Zell Program, will hold an hour-long conversation about poetry and contemporary literature in UMMA’s Helmut Stern Auditorium.
Airea Matthews, assistant director of the Zell Program, described Glück as a foundational voice in poetry. She said she hopes the reading inspired attendees and evoked emotion in each and every one.
“I hope that … they’re spoken to in some way, so the reading feels more like a conversation rather than anything else,” Matthews said.