Book Review: The Wild Iris by Louise Glück

First published in 1992, The Wild Iris is perhaps Glück’s best known work. A collection of poems that can be read in whole as a near-novella, she talks through seasons and changes in nature, narrating as the voices of individual plants, as the gardener, and as an unnamed deity. Spirituality, death, and nature are intertwined throughout the sparse verse.

Louise Glück has created a work that, unlike many other poetry collections, feels entirely cohesive and whole. This is not to say that individual poems cannot stand alone; as the titular poem and first in the collection, “The Wild Iris” acts as both a brilliant introduction to the tones and themes explored throughout and as an individually beautiful piece of poetry. Whilst I personally read the book in one sitting, I feel it could be more powerful to read one every few days throughout the seasons, and track the changes described in real time, depending on your individual preference and reading habits.

Above all, this is a peaceful selection of poetry. There is little obvious structure throughout, yet there is a definite care and consideration in the placement of every word and line break. Besides reading for enjoyment, I would recommend this book for those wishing to improve upon their own poetry writing; I found myself drifting toward analysing Glück’s technical abilities by the end, rather than being absorbed in the content. I understand the conventions of pastoral writing often do include allusions to nature being cyclical, but I did find myself slightly bored by the repetition by the end, perhaps due to my high expectations.

This collection won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, amongst many other accolades, and I do understand why; there is an incredible amount of skill intertwined with a sensitive handling of some heavy themes that somehow appear light and fresh. However, I ended the collection feeling slightly underwhelmed. This book seemed more of a balm than a ground-breaking piece of work (pardon the gardening pun). 

As the most-recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Glück’s work is currently being lauded and promoted like never before. One particularly interesting fact about her is just how many incredible writers she has taught in her role as a professor, including Claudia Rankine, who is perhaps my favourite poet. In reading ‘The Wild Iris’, there is an undeniable genius present; whether the work is enjoyable to sit and read in one sitting, as many recommend, is another issue. 


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