Remembering Louise Glück, 1943–2023


In Memoriam

Louise Glück’s studio in Vermont. Photograph by Louise Glück. Courtesy of Richard Deming.

Requiem for Louise

We were supposed to meet Louise Glück in New York, at the end of September, to see Verdi’s Requiem at the Met. My husband and I wanted to see Tannhäuser. Louise wanted to see the Requiem, and she was insistent. We decided to hear both, and I was tasked with procuring the tickets.

Louise clearly did not have faith in my ability to achieve this, and I received a number of anxious emails in the lead-up to the day on which individual tickets became available for sale. Would the seats be any good? What would they cost? And, once I had finally purchased the tickets: Now, where are we going to eat?

All summer long we exchanged emails in anticipation. Listening and listening to recordings, comparing our favorites. Louise told us about attending productions as a young girl, becoming enchanted with the music, the drama, and the atmosphere of opera. “I’ll restrain myself from singing along,” she said.

As the day of the concert approached, Louise reached out to say she was feeling sick and might not be able to go. Then it was official; she had to cancel her trip. Massive deprivation, she called it.

My husband and I went; a lovely friend filled in last-minute. The chandeliers sparkled. The audience coughed. In the darkness of Lincoln Center, the music shook us with its beauty and drama. It’s a huge choral work—too large for a liturgical setting and often undertaken by opera companies—with passages of real terror (and the biggest bass drums you’ve ever seen) and passages of quiet, despairing supplication.

Exaudi orationem meam:
ad te omnis caro veniet.

Hear my prayer:
all earthly flesh will come to you.

As I listened to the chorus, and watched the translated titles before me, the poetry of the piece struck me. Even though I’d read those lines over and over, this music made the poetry sensuous, felt.

Louise waited until after the weekend to tell us that she had been diagnosed with cancer the day before we had intended to see the Requiem. “I hadn’t wanted to tell you immediately and spoil the concert,” she told us.

It was the last we heard from her. I can’t stop thinking now about how much I wish she had been able to hear the Verdi. I can’t stop thinking about the terrible irony of having to miss a requiem in order to die.

Also, how like the text of the Requiem Mass her own poetry could be—lines of crystalline beauty, simple in utterance but heavy and resonant with moral authority and mortal truth. True lyrics, what Helen Vendler has called that “genre for literary aria,” with the full range of human interiority: entreaty, wrath, confession, and prayer.

Little soul, little perpetually undressed one,
do now as I bid you, climb
the shelf-like branches of the spruce tree;
wait at the top, attentive, like
a sentry or look-out.

Like Verdi’s Requiem, her poems are somehow both enormous and intimate. Not stuck there on the page, but always a voice, ethereal and alluring, that rises like music up from it.

                                    Let’s play choosing music. Favorite form.


                                    Favorite work.

Figaro. No. Figaro and Tannhauser. Now it’s your turn:
sing one for me.

—Richie Hofmann


“And the Sun Says Yes …”

1. Louise was a connoisseur of the specific. I don’t think I ever had a dinner with her at which she didn’t ask for a different wine after sampling a glass. She didn’t like Orson Welles’s movies because she didn’t like the way he furrowed his brow. Her favorite gift that she received from me and my wife was either an elegant pair of scissors or four teak sticks for stirring salt in a cellar. Had I ever called her a connoisseur of the specific in her presence, she would have pointed out that it wasn’t wrong, but was far too general.

2. In September of 2002, Yale’s Beinecke Library and Whitney Humanities Center put together a festival for all the living recipients of the Bollingen Prize at a packed church on the New Haven Green. So many people attended that a live feed was projected in the church next door, and that was standing room only as well. The first reader was John Ashbery, whom I had not seen give a reading before, and he had been the brightest star in poetry’s firmament for almost my entire life. He read well—I forget what—and when he finished, for some reason, instead of returning to his seat on the stage established at the front of the church he drifted down to the pews and plopped himself next to Penelope, Robert Creeley’s wife. The next to read was Creeley himself, who was in part the reason why I had become a poet—he had been my teacher and was in fact why I’d dragged my beloved to live in the snowy, snowy environs of Buffalo for three years. Bob read beautifully, with a stolid, craggy elegance.  He too drifted down to the pews, afterward. The stage seemed noticeably emptier. It was Louise’s turn. At that point, I wasn’t that familiar with her work. Back then, I was perhaps too ensconced in a polemical need to be edgy and avant-garde. I had heard she was okay as a reader, though not great. Someone told me she had pioneered the Iowa “uptalk” reading style that dominated poetry in the nineties. On the other hand, my beloved—one of the organizers of the festival—had risked driving from Buffalo to Rochester one night a few years before, in the middle of a blizzard, to hear Louise read. They’d closed the thruway before they even hit the Buffalo city limits, however, forcing them to turnaround. Nancy barely made it back.

Louise stepped to the podium. I picked up a program and began to leaf through it distractedly. Then she began to read “October”: “Is it winter again, is it cold again.” From that first line, she leveled the room in a way I have never seen a poet do before or since. The poem was—and remains—a revelation. Not Romantic, not stormy or angsty or moralizing—it was resolved, insistent, fierce but focused. Her voice enacted what language could do for us, what it could do with us.

3. My favorite photo of Louise is one of those “live photos” that captures motion just before and just after the picture is taken. We are crossing the historic Annisquam Bridge in Gloucester, Massachusetts, that spans four hundred feet across Lobster Cove. It is nearly dusk, and the late-August light drifts into shadows among the sailboats and pylons.

Nancy, walking a few feet behind us, must have called out. I step out of frame. Turning toward the camera, Louise’s face, for a moment, becomes wide, surprise-filled smile. She then glances off-screen and the sly skepticism creeps in at the corners of her eyes. She asks, “Now what are we doing?”

4. Now, memory: she steps forward again, onto that wooden bridge. I hear her voice—softer, then softer. She is saying something to Nancy, something about rain or light or wine. Soon, too soon, she’s on the far shore. We’re here. Now what are we doing?

—Richard Deming

Hello. It’s Louise.

“Hello.” Pause. “It’s Louise.”

Her phone-machine messages, back when people had phone machines, began that way, with an enjambment. Her name came as a comic redundancy after the surprisingly deep and gravelly greeting, which of course was unmistakable.

Part of what was funny was the slight suggestion of apology in her admission that it was she calling—again, as it were. She knew—and knew her listener knew—that what was coming would involve a demand of some kind, flimsily disguised as a preference or proposal. She didn’t call just to find out how you were.

She did, however, want very much to talk to you, to see you. In fact, it was so important that the day, the hour, and the place of your dinner had to be established weeks and sometimes months in advance.

Before she signed off, there would be a few more pauses and pivots, a few more line breaks.


Louise’s need to control her calendar was expressive of her acute awareness of passing time and her will to fight it.

Time was the engine of her extraordinary will, her drive to say something permanent in poetry, to win all those prizes. Behind her resolve was a certain terror. She knew that choices matter in life and on the page because we have only so many of them. She saw us all as moral creatures obliged to make the best of our days, however best might be defined. Most of us fail at what we do with our time. She was determined to be different and so she was.

Age, the seasons, families, memory, death—maybe time is what her poetry is all about? The slow, daily emergency of the clock.


While time is a central theme of Louise’s poetry, timing is basic to the form of it. Timing is a matter of syntax: how sense unfolds in language. Syntax is everything in Louise’s poetry, where there is a good deal of complex sound-patterning, but no rhyme or meter and little of what might conventionally count as lyric song. She was allergic to these commonplace features of traditional verse, which stunk of inauthenticity, mere performance. (That attitude puts a sort of time stamp on her work, locating her beginnings in the late sixties.)

Her own technique heavily relies on enjambment and the grouping of lines in stanzas. These provide a visual structure for the drama involved in speaking.

Not stage directions exactly, but a way of measuring language through which we hear her weighing what she is saying while she’s saying it. Testing its truth, her reader judging with her. Thought opens in the beat between one line and another. The white space of the page is part of the poem. Part of the sound of it.


Only two American-born poets have won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Louise and T. S. Eliot. Eliot, who wrote lyric poems as dramatic monologues, fruitfully complicating the relationship between poet and poetic speaker, seems to me the crucial model for Louise’s poetry.

In an essay on Eliot written many years ago, Louise declared, “I read to feel addressed.” It follows that she wrote to address a reader. Psychoanalysis was one of the deep sources of her creativity. I don’t mean psychoanalytic theory or motifs, although there is plenty about parents and children and their tribulations in her poetry. I mean psychoanalysis as a speech situation in which one person addresses another with truth at stake, and in which words, our untrustworthy words, are the only way to get at it.

“My preference, from the beginning, has been the poetry that requests or craves a listener,” Louise writes in an essay about her literary education. “Let us go then, you and I”: Louise makes the same invitation to the reader, but she is hungrier, more ready to admit her hunger, to place her demand, than Eliot. She says craves.


For a while, Louise pretended not to read on a screen or do email, at least officially. Eventually she made friends with her iPad, and she became a rapid responder. I can’t replay those phone-machine messages from long ago, but I can reread her emails and texts. She tended to sign off “XL.” Extra-large? Of course not. Don’t be silly. Excel, she was saying. That was what she was driven to do. It is also the challenge she left to the rest of us. How like Louise to turn her embrace into an imperative.

—Langdon Hammer


Richie Hofmann is the author of two books of poems, A Hundred Lovers and Second Empire

Richard Deming is the author of five books, including This Exquisite LonelinessDay for Night and Art of the Ordinary. He teaches at Yale University, where he is the director of creative writing.

Langdon Hammer is the Niel Gray Jr. Professor of English at Yale and the author of James Merrill: Life and Art.