Thursday, May 15, 2008

The Wild Iris

I can't believe I didn't post this sooner. A whole seven months of blogging and I didn't even think of The Wild Iris, a book of poetry by Louise Glück, until now. Shameful.

Book cover. From, who hopefully won't object.
The back cover credits the original photo to Anna Watkins, 1861.

Now calm down. It's only poetry. It's not going to hurt you. This was actually kind of an important book to me around 1996 and 1997.1 I mean, I re-read it endlessly, for one thing. But besides that, it turns out that it's also notable for being an example of somebody else anthropomorphizing plants, a good fifteen years before I started the blog.

So the deal is this. The book is 63 pages long, and contains 54 separate poems. The 54 poems are of three types:

1) The poems spoken by the plants to a human. These have titles bearing the names of the plants doing the speaking. ("Trillium," "Clover," "Ipomoea")
2) The poems spoken by the human (there's only one that does any talking, which is not necessarily Louise herself but it doesn't necessarily hurt if you assume that it is), which are given various titles, but especially either "Matins" or "Vespers," and there are several of each of those.
3) The poems spoken by God to the humans. (Louise's God is apparently not interested in talking to the plants. Or if he does talk to the plants, Louise was not permitted to eavesdrop.) These have titles which refer to time in some way, either of the season or of the day. ("Clear Morning," "Midsummer," "Early Darkness")

I'm a little hazy on what the fair use rules are for poetry, whether I could reproduce a poem in full without getting threatening letters from lawyers. At the same time, I love "Witchgrass," and I love it as much for the way it progresses and builds as for anything else, so just quoting part wouldn't show what I'm trying to show. In the event that I get scary lawyer e-mails, the same poem is also at this link, so, um, go there if there's a big "[redacted]" below. Anyway.

Panicum capillare, "witchgrass." Photo by Richard Old,


comes into the world unwelcome
calling disorder, disorder--

If you hate me so much
don't bother to give me
a name: do you need
one more slur
in your language, another
way to blame
one tribe for everything--

as we both know,
if you worship
one god, you only need
one enemy--

I'm not the enemy.
Only a ruse to ignore
what you see happening
right here in this bed,
a little paradigm
of failure. One of your precious flowers
dies here almost every day
and you can't rest until
you attack the cause, meaning

whatever is left, whatever
happens to be sturdier
than your personal passion--

It was not meant
to last forever in the real world.
But why admit that, when you can go on
doing what you always do,
mourning and laying blame,
always the two together.

I don't need your praise
to survive. I was here first,
before you were here, before
you ever planted a garden.
And I'll be here when only the sun and moon
are left, and the sea, and the wide field.

I will constitute the field.

It's not for everybody, but it's accessible, and it seems like the sort of thing that somebody who likes this blog would probably like. Benjamin Vogt will back me up on this. has used copies starting at $3.45, which even considering that you'll pay about that much for shipping and handling, is still pretty darn reasonable. I mean, it's worth twelve cents a poem. And a new book won't run you much more than that. Also there are public libraries, if you just really don't want to risk any actual money. Just think about it, okay?

Also: Jessica Schneider sucks. She knows why.


1 I even met Glück at one point; she said something nice if not enthusiastic about a story I'd written. It's not worth explaining how and why we were meeting. Maybe later. The book itself was published in 1992: as with Amy Winehouse, I was running a bit behind the times.


Anonymous said...

Splendid, Mr. S.!

This blog is becoming addictive, and dangerous: I am supposed to do stuff to justify my salary and instead look at me...

Great, anyway, keep 'em coming!

Mr. GG

Benjamin Vogt said...

Everybody should read this book! Yessssssss indeed. Buy buy buy.

(and, for fair use rules, I've been told you can copy 10% of a book without getting in to trouble, or, wait 50 years after the author's death and do waht you like.)