When I Interviewed Louise Glück in May 2010

I was at Yale’s Beinecke reading in Yehuda Amichai and Joseph Brodsky’s archives. Louise was teaching and I ‘phoned to ask her if she’d let me attend her creative writing classes. She said she couldn’t because the group’s equilibrium might be disturbed. The terms she used I think were “trust” and “built over time”. She was spare, but warm. I immediately felt I’d learned a lot about the space, possibility and scope a class creates. And how to maintain that. About the level of respect required to foster that space.

I asked her, “then would you let me interview you?” She said she’d answer any questions I wrote to her. I talked to her about Stepping Stones Dennis O’Driscoll’s recent book of Seamus Heaney interviews. Explaining that at the launch it was so different listening to them both talking, to reading the back and forth between them in the book, riveting though the content of that was/is.

Louise Glück listened, I could feel the quality with which she listened as I spoke to her at the librarian’s desk, it gave me the courage to press, however tentatively, my point, which I could feel evolving as I spoke.

It was so different, I carried on, when Seamus read poems, talked later in the pub, to his lovely, elegant sister, his readers, to Dennis. I told Louise I’d said this to Dennis and his partner in that pub. He was so kind, thoughtful, receptive, “yes” he said “it was the only way I could get to him.

I think a cliché about a poet’s speaking voice came next, as I realised how impossible it was for me to explain to Louise, who I couldn’t see, the glint in Seamus’ eye when he spoke, the challenge of trying to get down on a page more of the who-writes-the-poem and what they sound like when they’re not writing one.

I explained I’d want to tape the interview just for accuracy. Then I held my breath. When she said I could write to her, that she doesn’t do email, I felt very lucky, she was clearly not someone who felt comfortable with what I was asking of her, but agreed because I had a serious job it seemed to me it was worth doing.

She trusted me to try. Michael Schmidt to publish. Her only condition, I didn’t send her the PN Review the interview was in. She said, “I might think differently by then”.

I wrote to her to congratulate her on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. She wrote back immediately, thoughtfully and at length. She didn’t sound different.