Lousie Gluck’s Vita Nova
Reviewed by Brian Hayter


Louise Gluck’s Vita Nova immediately brings to mind Dante’s early work of the same title. In Dante’s “new life,” he is freed from the bonds of an unrequited love when the object of his affection passes away. In Gluck’s book of poems, the speaker’s loss is also the loss of a lover; she is wounded from a difficult break-up with a man. She also explores the days of her youth, the death of her mother, and that ambiguous period of time where a child passes into adulthood. In the first poem, bearing the same title as the book, Gluck juxtaposes her childhood with her adult self who is remembering her recently departed mother. The feelings of the two times are different but also unchanged in way—in a way that we all carry our past selves with us into the future. The speaker does not long for youth, but instead reinvents it for use in her current life: “Surely spring has been returned to me, this time/ not as a love but a messenger of death.” The contradiction creates a mystery about the speaker, a sense of triumph both calm and wise. In the poem “Castile” Gluck heightens the importance of the dream world and the world that exists inside our heads. She asks “When I awoke I was crying/ has that no reality?” She uses the backdrop of the European countryside to make a world of reality that blurs the sincerity of emotions and senses. The details of her dreams are not so different than the details of travels. In “Mutable Earth” the sparse lines and scant clips of question and answer mirror the speaker’s own spiritual dearth. When the speaker tells us: “I was vigilant: when I touched myself/ I didn’t feel anything” we can’t help but question the health of this ‘new life’. The lines seem to imply that emotional damage has left the speaker in a place where caution overrides the desire for emotional connection.

In the final poem Gluck addresses the process of divorce by humorously highlighting the estranged family dog. Who will keep Blizzard?—is the essential question of the poem. But the poem becomes more emotional when the speaker imagines that she is the dog, enduring her own parent’s divorce: “O Blizzard,/ be a brave dog—this is/ all material; you’ll wake up/ in a different world.” The speaker brings us back to the beginning of the book when she in fact wakes from a dream, healed and wiser for the pain that she has suffered. Returning to Dante, who attempted to immortalize his love for Beatrice by stripping his emotions of humanity, Gluck does the opposite. Gluck marinates in loss and enjoys introspection even when it may seem difficult. The book turns painful memories into bittersweet laughter and works to provide the reader with a certain wisdom—a distance from the emotional ups and downs of life that is perhaps possible to achieve.