Faculty Books: Difficult Joy
January 7, 2022
As part of a 4-book poetry series he calls “Green Party Tetralogy,” Dr. Brian Glaser, associate professor (English) in Wilkinson College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, completes the collection with Difficult Joy (Shanti Arts, Dec. 2021).
The final installment focuses on two main areas, leftist radical poetics of the Surrealists and the Dadaists, and allusions to the myth of Narcissus and Echo. As Dr. Glaser puts it, “It’s really about love.”
The Voice of Wilkinson sat down with Glaser to discuss Difficult Joy.
Voice of Wilkinson: Tell me about Difficult Joy and why you wrote it.
Dr. Brian Glaser: I wrote a book each year of the Trump Era. I think one of the saddest casualties of populism is ideological diversity on the left. These books were my attempt to keep eco-socialist political energy alive and to represent the depths of the Green movement, the rewards of commitment to it in a dark time.
VoW: What does this book focus on and what do you hope readers gain from your poems?
BG: An ancient poet, Horace [Quintus Horatius Flaccus], said the function of poetry is to delight and instruct. I hope to move people and to encourage them to think—to think about themselves and about our society, how we might be more kind and more just. We will need to have ethical clarity on the planet we are creating.
VoW: I understand you included Hölderlin’s “Bread and Wine” in this book. Can you tell me a little bit about that and why you decided to include it?
BG: I wrote that translation in the evenings during a vacation to Palm Springs with my wife and children. It’s a nine-part ode, a pretty long poem, and I translated it as a way of keeping at bay for a week, the voice that tells me I need to be working on a poem all the time. I thought a translation would be something I could start and stop at will, unlike the process of writing poems. And it was.
Hölderlin was a German Romantic poet who lost his mind. The poem is about religious ecstasy. And so it seems to fit in the section that’s drawing energy from irrationality, from what could be called temporary madness.
VoW: Do you have one specific poem in this book that really stands out to you?
BG: “Mission San Juan Capistrano” is the poem from this book that I most want to share with readers. It’s about living with this traumatic knowledge of settler culture in Southern California, knowing that we were preceded here by a genocide of indigenous persons and cultures, and how the Mission is one of many open wounds.