Friday, 9 October 2020

Universality (on Louise Glück and the Nobel Prize)

I was pleased to hear that Louise Glück has won the Nobel Prize, as the championing of her work can only encourage non-readers of contemporary poetry to realise that the genre offers multiple interpretations beyond their preconceived expectations. However, I was struck by a quote from Anders Olsson, chair of the Nobel committee, which read as follows:

Even if her autobiographical background is significant in her works, she is not to be regarded as a confessional poet. She seeks universality...

The above statement is unfortunate, to say the least. It perpetuates numerous fallacies. For a start, no poem can ever be fully defined as autobiographical or confessional, even if the poet in question were to claim such a status or label. This is because role playing always becomes a factor once the creative process is set in motion.

And then there's the absurd implication (beyond reference to Glück herself) that a poet is somehow barred from universal appeal if their poetry is also partly autobiographical or confessional in its point of departure. How many of the greats would that rule out? Such a claim would definitely cast aspersions over certain previous winners of the same award!

All in all, Glúck's win is excellent news, but its annoucement was couched in terms that could at the very least be interpreted as critical shortcuts. Her poetry and the genre in general both deserve a more nuanced understanding of the role of autobiography in any and every poem.

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