A Village Life, written in 2009, is Louise Glück’s eleventh collection of poetry. This was a lot different from her earlier collections that I’ve read. A lot of reviews have described this as a verse novel, but I don’t think there is a true narrative here, especially compared to something like The Autobiography of Red, a true verse novel. Instead, the collection is tied together by a common setting that explores the themes of youth, death, and a nostalgia for home. As you may have guessed, that common setting is a village, somewhere with fields, mountains, and rivers, in maybe part of Europe.
This collection is actually really funny and witty, and I found myself laughing out loud at certain parts. For example –
The children cry, they sometimes fight over toys.
But the water’s there, to remind the mothers that they love these children;
that for them to drown would be terrible.
Every summer in New York City, I become really homesick for the South. There is nothing quite like a Southern summer, and Glück’s description of village life managed to explain and soothe my nostalgia exactly when I needed it. She explores all possible outcomes of village living – you stay and grow old, you move away and always look back, you are both unsure and unwavering. It made me feel like even though I moved away, I will still be okay, because I am not alone. It reminded me of something Truman Capote once said, “all Southerners eventually come home, if only in a box.”
To my mind, you’re better off if you stay;
that way, dreams don’t damage you.
At dusk, you sit by the window. Wherever you live,
you can see the fields, the river, realities
on which you cannot impose yourself —
To me, this book is a lot quieter than her previous ones, but the moments of stillness convey much louder messages. I have been thinking a lot about what makes a book of poetry work. I haven’t come to any conclusions yet, but A Village Life works.
I would recommend this book to people that are homesick, people that live in small towns, people that are on the fence about poetry and want to start somewhere approachable.