The Wild Iris was written during a ten-week period in the summer of 1991. Louise Cluck's first four collections consistently returned to the natural world, to the classical and biblical narratives that arose to explain the phenomena of this world, to provide meaning and to console. Ararat, her fifth book, offered a substitution for the received: a demotic, particularized myth of contemporary family. Now in The Wild Iris, her most important and accomplished collection to date, ecstatic imagination supplants both empiricism and tradition, creating an impassioned polyphonic exchange among the god who "disclose?s?/virtually nothing," human beings who "leave/signs of feeling/everywhere," and a garden where "whatever/returns from oblivion returns/ to find a voice." The poems of this sequence see beyond mortality, the bitter discovery on which individuality depends. "To be one thing/is to be next to nothing," Cluck challenges the reader. "Is it enough/only to look inward?" A major poet redefines her task--its thematic obsessions, its stylistic signature--with each volume. Visionary, shrewd, intuitive--and at once cyclical and apocalyptic--The Wild Iris is not a repudiation but a confirmation, an audacious feat of psychic ventriloquism, a fiercely original record of the spirit's obsession with, and awe of, earth.
The other reviews will tell you that God is represented by poems titled with seasons, weather, or light; people are represented by poems titled with prayers (Vespers and Matins, mostly); and nature is represented by poems titled with flowers or other plants. In this review, I do the same. It’s important to know. But really, what is the difference between us and nature, to God? For that matter, to the plants, what is the difference between us and God?
There are differences, here, though I can’t really tell you what they are. Just that the essences of things are different. Glück understands these essences perfectly and works them over, basically turning the entire collection into a giant apostrophe to the larger world of things outside the self, looking for recognition, exploring the joys and limitations of experience, the complexities of a fulfilling or unfulfilling relationship (with God or not), growth, depression and persistence, as well as the coming death winter brings. The plants die, humans retreat from the garden, God sleeps. When that happens, you can return to this collection and remember the summer.
So yes, this collection is “about flowers.” If your basic level of reading comprehension stops there, then go ahead and skip this.
Is the collection uneven in quality? Or were some of the poems just meant for me at this time (very deeply so) and others not? Even if it is uneven, unevenness like this is its own kind of beauty.
Must be read in quiet. The voice here is often completely unadorned but subtle, not stark. You will marvel at the plainness and at times the perfection of the language. You will hear the voice of authority: "I mean you to know." (I found that voice strongest in "Clear Morning" and "Spring Snow.")
A man and a woman in a garden but cast out of paradise. She struggles to grasp the terms of their punishment. She tries to hear God and speak back his voice, as he makes himself known "in the words that become your own response" (her own response, in this case).
It is that voice of authority that compels me in this volume, at least this reading. But there are many other beauties here. In what feels like a totally different mode, I loved "Presque Isle." An almost Miloszian cataloging of detail but to a perhaps more subtle effect than he always achieves: "Muslin, flicker of silver."