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Book Review: A Village Life by Louise Gluck

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Louise Gluck's A Village Life will continue Gluck's leading role in American poetry, although it presents a more narrative style than her earlier work. We are presented with an unnamed, vaguely Mediterranean setting in an unclear time. In other words, the focus here is on the people.

The theme is familiar, but Gluck's presentation is unique. Her people, young and old, are faced with the reality that life moves forward whether they are ready or not. Indeed, our own choices may alter the direction slightly, but finding our ultimate destination is clearly something we do not control. While we expect this in the older people facing death, Gluck knows that such experiences are not lost on the youth.

In "Noon" we find the tale of a "boy and girl" heading out into the meadow where they talk and picnic.

"The rest — how two people can lie down on the blanket –
they know about it but they're not ready for it.
They know people who've done it, as a kind of game or trial –
then they say, no, wrong time, I think I'll just keep being a child.

"But your body doesn't listen. It knows everything know,
it says you're not a child, you haven't been a child for a long time."

As the poems move on we see that many of these youth listen to their bodies and find their life now laid out for them. Some go away and come back, but they only suffer more.

"To my mind, you're better off if you stay;
that way, dreams don't damage you."

This theme of longing for what we cannot have continues with age.

"My body, now that we will not be traveling together much longer

I begin to feel a new tenderness toward you, very raw and unfamiliar,
like what I remember of love when I was young — "

While all this starts to sound like another aging poet becoming depressed over life, Gluck is not complaining. Instead, even as seen in the stanzas above she finds those moments in life to enjoy and sees change, no matter how much we resist it, as a normal part of life. These changes in our lives are inevitable, but not to be mourned. Gluck is intentional about recognizing where we are and living in the moment we have.

In "Walking at Night" we see an older woman who takes advantage of the fact that men no longer desire her to take her walks at night where "her eyes that used never to leave the ground/are free now to go where they like." She is rejuvenated by her age and situation and seeks nor needs any pity.

This joy is seen best in "Abundance," a glorious ode to spring which celebrates its newness while recognizing its transience. A boy touches a girl "so he walks home a man, with a man's hungers." The fruit ripens, "baskets and baskets from a single tree/ so some rots every year/ and for a few weeks there's too much." The mice scamper through the harvest, the moon is full, "Nobody dies, nobody goes hungry" and the only sound is "the roar of the wheat." Gluck calls on us to revel in these moments without fearing what has preceded and what is to come.

Much of Gluck's intent is seen in three poems all entitled "Burning Leaves." As the leaves burn we are left with little, but the burning is important in creating room for the new. We are offered no promise of anything more.

"How fast it all goes, how fast the smoke clears.
And where the pile of leaves was,
an emptiness that suddenly seems vast."

But while the fire is burning, it has life.

"And then, for an hour or so, it's really animated
blazing away like something alive.

death making room for life"

Gluck has created a volume that will benefit from repeated readings, and her easy, unhurried rhythm makes the return that much easier. She has the gift of all great poets in not only recognizing the commonplace, but also finding in it a celebration of life as it is.

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