This is an interesting article by poet Meghan O’Rourke on Louise Glück’s stewardship of the Yale Series of Younger Poets from 2003-2010. Glück is credited with reviving the stature of the oldest annual literary award and most coveted poetry prize for writers under 40 who have not previously published a book of poetry.
O’Rourke’s piece was published in 2008. Some remarkable observations are the following:
Each of Glück’s selections so far—Peter Streckfus’ The Cuckoo, Richard Siken’s Crush, Jay Hopler’s Green Squall, Jessica Fisher’s Frail-Craft—is impressive in its own way. (The latest selection in the series is Fady Joudah’s The Earth in the Attic, forthcoming this spring.) The collections are not of a piece: their formal strategies, thematic preoccupations, and tonal range vary dramatically. But they are unified by an engagement with what Frank Bidart has called “the radical given”: each writer speaks with a profound sense that a stance of enigmatic remove is not sufficient. For the most part, they resist the de facto armored irony typical in poems of younger poets today, a limited style that Glück tartly diagnoses in her introduction to Green Squall:
Irony has become less part of a whole tonal range than a scrupulous inhibiting armor, the disguise by which one modern soul recognizes another. In contemporary practice, it is characterized by acute self-consciousness without analytic detachment, a frozen position as opposed to a means of inquiry. Essential, at every moment, to signal that one knows one is not the first to think or feel what one thinks or feels. This stance is absolutely at odds with the actual sensations of feeling, certainly, as well with the sensations of making—the sense, immediate and absolute, of unprecedented being, the exalted intensification of that fundamental isolation which marks all things mortal.
Instead, the books have what Glück calls in her introduction to Frail-Craft a “quality of persistent strangeness,” which derives in part from their accepting certain contemporary conventions while strenuously resisting others, as the poets seek to redefine the relationship between contingent human speech and the hard realities of the insensate world around them. The result is idiosyncratic, off-kilter, often or occasionally brilliant. That is not to over-hype the books: each writer has his or her weaknesses, his or her lesser poems. But none is working complacently within poetic convention. At the same time, what Glück says about Jessica Fisher could apply to all of them: “experiment never deteriorates into complacency.”