When I arrived at my creative writing program in 2002 (which my friend Courtney Queeney and I affectionately referred to as “Poetry Camp”), I was the least educated of the bunch. I don’t say that with false humility. It’s a matter of fact. No one with my GRE scores should have been admitted to any graduate program. I knew that. I’ve always considered my acceptance as explained only by this: God’s Grace. I was given a great gift.
I could write an okay poem then. And I’d read maybe six books of contemporary poetry at that point. Those six (maybe seven?) were the only living poets I knew of and I knew I was in for it when I met the creative geniuses in my workshop.
I had a yellow folder and every time a poet was mentioned in regular conversation (as if I should know about them already) in one of my classes, by friends or professors, I scribbled that name as nonchalantly as I could. Then I went home and did my best to read read read.
I keep that torn up folder by my desk still. It says: “Louise Glich” (my misspelling of Louise Gluck), Frank O’Hara, Phillip Larkin, Louis Simpson. It says, Czeslov Milosz and Robert Hass and Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton. It says Tom Lux and Dorothy Parker, Ezra Pound and Harold Bloom. That folder is also scratched with pencil, my first note of St. Ignatius and his prayer exercises (one of the first movements in my heart toward contemplative prayer.) And, also written on it in fading pencil? The boy I’d met the weekend before who had emailed me: “chris.hohorst@mnfn…” His email address is unfinished. I guess I found it and emailed him back.
In honor of the yellow folder, I will share with you a little Louise Gluck today. (Her last name, by the way, should be spelled with an umlaut over the “u”…though I’m too technically challenged to accomplish that.) Hopefully, we’ll get to the others on the yellow folder at some point too.
The Wild Iris
By Louise Gluck
At the end of my suffering
there was a door.
Hear me out: that which you call death
Overhead, noises, branches of the pine shifting.
Then nothing. The weak sun
flickered over the dry surface.
It is terrible to survive
buried in the dark earth.
Then it was over: that which you fear, being
a soul and unable
to speak, ending abruptly, the stiff earth
bending a little. And what I took to be
birds darting in low shrubs.
You who do not remember
passage from the other world
I tell you I could speak again: whatever
returns from oblivion returns
to find a voice:
from the center of my life came
a great fountain, deep blue
shadows on azure seawater.
“The Wild Iris,” Louise Gluck, The Wild Iris (New York, NY: Harper-Collins, 1992), 1