Courtesy of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences

Louise Glück, winner of the 2020 Nobel Prize in Literature and Frederick Iseman professor of poetry at Yale, gave this year’s Foundational Lecture at the Yale University Art Gallery on Tuesday.

Established by the English Department in 2018, the Foundational Course Reading Series intends to connect students to established, award-winning writers. Past lecturers include Rita Dove, Robert Pinsky and Natasha Tretheway — all former United States poet laureates. Glück, however, is the first Nobel laureate to lead the lecture. The decision to have Glück give this year’s lecture comes after two years of disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Per the English Department’s website, “these lectures illuminate how poetry vitalizes the history of the English language, and also indicate how students can learn to lay claim to their own places in that history, no matter their background.” 

Canceled during the onset of the pandemic in 2020, and later held virtually in 2021, this year marks the first time in two years that the lecture has been held in person. Glück’s lecture is intended to celebrate her career and showcase the power of poetry in difficult times, according to professor Richard Deming, director of creative writing in the English Department.

“This year, it seemed important to ask Louise [Glück],” Deming said. “By doing so we are drawing on our own community to reconstitute itself and to show that although we have weathered so much over the last few years, we are still here, still strong.” 

Glück’s Nobel win, which came during the pandemic, could not be celebrated with the usual fanfare, according to Stephanie Markovits, the English Department’s Director of Undergraduate Studies. 

“We had been unable to celebrate her Nobel Prize properly as a department, coming as it did in the midst of the pandemic,” she said. “This event would offer the chance for us to come together in a way that highlights not only her contributions to the field of literature at large but also her contributions as a teacher of poetry to our very own students.”

Glück’s work is praised for its meditations on poetic tradition and the struggles of modern life. 

“Louise Gluck’s beautiful, extraordinary work was … particular and astute before she won the Nobel Prize,” Cynthia Zarin, poet and professor of creative writing, said. “Her most recent book, ‘Winter Recipes From The Collective,’ continues that trajectory of quiet, moving, speech.” Glück’s poetry is noted for “[capturing] the essence of what the lyric mode can achieve,” according to Markovits, who said “her poems make meaning out of life.”

It is this collective agreement over the emotional intensity of Glück’s work that is at the core of the decision to select her as the 2021-22 Foundational Lecturer. 

“Who would be better to ask than Louise, whose poems have meant so much to so many of us, and whose teaching and friendship have mattered tremendously as a source, let us say, not of resilience but resolve?” Deming asked. “[She] is the most significant lyric poet, and one of the most distinctive, urgent voices we have working in and with the English language.”

Ultimately, the Foundational Lectures are cast as a celebration of the lecturer’s work and go hand-in-hand with course material from the English foundational courses — “English 125, 126, 127 and 128” —  which are required for students intending to major in English. As an extension of the foundational courses, Markovits said, “we also hope that students hearing [the lecturer’s] work will be able to connect the poetry being read by the Foundational Lecturer to other works they have encountered in their courses, breathing new life into those works.”

The lecture, then, is a welcome addition. “It is a fine thing for students to attend lectures and readings which will expand their knowledge of the world,” Zarin said.

As for who will be chosen to lead the 2023 Foundational Lecture, Markovits said, “That would be giving away the plot!”

The Foundational Course Lecture took place at the Yale University Art Gallery.