Wednesday September 19, 2012

Louise Glück taught at Williams College when I first came there. She had won the Pulitzer Prize and would become Poet Laureate in 2004. On Wednesday night she will come back to read at Williams, lines of clear pain and vigor, like those in "Vita Nova": "I remember sounds like that from my childhood, / laughter for no cause, simply because the world is beautiful."

In my first college semester of everything new at once, her class was a revelation to me. She told me when my writing was strong and when it was weak. She told me what I was doing wrong. And she told me how to do it better.

I was hungry for that. People had encouraged and praised my writing, but no one had ever told me bluntly when I was missing the mark and why. I wanted to know so much, in fact, that I rounded up just about every poem I had ever written (I may possibly have spared her my kindergarten composition on grape juice) and descended on her office hours with all of them. She was kind and gracious, and she sent me away enlarged -- and with perspective.

Moments from that class stand out, lines and perspectives, like the image of a stalking coy dog. Cait Williamson wrote about a long-ago summer camp: "I named the cockroaches on the beam net to my bed. I named them all Allende, because I can't tell them apart."

Most of all, I remember the last day of class. We gathered in someone's living room with doughnuts, and Professor Glück asked us each to read aloud a favorite poem.


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About halfway around the circle, someone began Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwokky" -- 'twas brillig, and the slithy toves did gyre and gimbol in the wabe ... -- and the entire class, in unison, joined in.

I knew then I was in the right place.