The Wild Iris

by Louise Glück

Paperback, 1992





Hopewell, NJ : Ecco Press, c1992.


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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member danlai
The most common piece of criticism that I hear about Louise Glück is that she needs to “stop writing about flowers.” I suppose that’s valid, but a bit simplistic. I do feel that at times she is working too hard to find meaning in clovers or something, just so she can fill up the collection.
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But for me, the vast majority of these poems really work. I can’t really say that I fully understand the nuances of poetry and what makes a poem good or bad, so if you are a more casual reader of poetry, like me, this review might be helpful.

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.
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LibraryThing member yonderboy777
This is probably my favorite book out of my entire library. Stark, multi-layered, elegant, Gluck's garden speaks in an oracular voice of the unceasing effort of living and the inevitability of death. Her flowers are tortured, and their pain speaks to the timeless condition of humanity. The
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influence of the inimitable Stanley Kunitz is evident (I read once that these poems were developed under his direct guidance). If you enjoy this and want to explore more about its context, you may want to invest in Kunitz's lovely book *The Wild Braid: A Poet Reflects on a Century in the Garden*.
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LibraryThing member alluminor10
Poems like these don't open to an acquisitive reader. So I had to approach the book obliquely, glancing through at first, not even necessarily reading whole poems at once. I had drunk deeply several times from a few of them before I had even read some of the rest. Today I started from somewhere
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near the beginning and read through the book in a circle, not from beginning to end, but from where I started until I returned to that point.

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."
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LibraryThing member abirdman
Pulitzer prize winning book, and perhaps the most accessible Gluck book ever. The Matins (and others) are prayers. And the poems about flowers (the Red Poppies poem, especially) are brilliant, rich, sensual. Read it.
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
The language is graceful, as are the images, but they also weren't memorable for me. I'm afraid that while the talent with language shows through here, I won't be coming back to these.
LibraryThing member stickpoet
The second book of poetry by Gluck that I've read and by far the best of the two. Very lyrical with excellent use of metaphor. I almost did not read this book based upon the previous contact with the author's work. This would have been my loss.
LibraryThing member andreas.wpv
May be I just don't get her special style of writing (which, of course, I do not believe), but to me this book is just not poetic, not intense, not thought or emotions provoking babble.
LibraryThing member HankIII
It's been quite a while since I last read this one from a grad course. I picked it up today, and thought I'd give it another shot without the cumbersome grad school stress peeling back my skin, making me hate the literary pundits, and so ready to throw each volume of the OED at the next
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pontificating windbag of politics and academia. But all of that is behind me now, so it deserves a baggage-free read--so far exceptionally good. Review will follow soon. After reading it:Did I state exceptionally good? (cough) It seems my urge to project an intellectual analyis before even reading it again caught up with me.I didn't really care for it. However, I can acknowledge that it would appeal to others. I just found the book a little gimicky?Anyway, live and learn and watch your garden grow.
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LibraryThing member b.masonjudy
To say I was damn well shattered by Glück's collection would be putting it mildly. I didn't expect the motif of flowers to draw out such weighty theological meditations. I found myself the most humbled in the presence of her voice of God, a deity closer to the one who wrestled with Jacob than who
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met Moses on Mt. Sinai.
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LibraryThing member HippieLunatic
I appreciated this trialogue between human, nature, and the divine, discussing life lessons intended and ignored.

I was drawn particularly to the parental despair of the divine, the angst of the human, and the zen of the flowers.
LibraryThing member greeniezona
I bought this based on a close reading of a single poem on the Book Riot podcast. I knew it was going to be right up my alley and it REALLY was. Musings on religion and existence through the metaphor/reality of gardening, and it ends up blending faith with a sort of naturalistic fatalism and I ate
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it up with a spoon. I have been sleeping on Glück too long, and I need to read at least one more of her collections this year.

Favorite poems: Matins (p. 31), Midsummer, Vespers (p. 37), End of Summer, Vespers (p. 56)
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LibraryThing member mykl-s
This is a collection of poems I hope to understand some day.
LibraryThing member quondame
Arguments with god and mortality in a garden. The garden is the ubiquitous artifact observed occasionally through a window or from a porch. He appears, sometimes with a rake. But made objects are so scarce that when Presque Isle presents us with a dish a table within walls, a balcony sheet, and
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more we are overwhelmed with the human world and humanity, ripped like a wild flower from the melancholy contemplation of a brief, sometimes blighted, life.
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National Book Award (Finalist — Poetry — 1992)
Pulitzer Prize (Winner — Poetry — 1993)
LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — Poetry — 1992)



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