We should insist while there is still time
November 13, 2012 12:47 PM   Subscribe

Poet Jack Gilbert has passed away; he was 87.

Jack Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh, where he befriended poet Gerald Stern while in college, and whom he encouraged to pursue poetry. He didn't publish a book of poetry until he was 37. That book, Views Of Jeopardy, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Prize. He didn't publish again for over 20 years. He spent most of those decades in a Salinger-like isolation, wandering Europe, teaching when he needed money. He was romantically involved with his student, poet Linda Gregg, with whom remained close for the rest of his life. He married Michiko Nogami, who died during the marriage, and about whom many of his poems are written. His most prolific period was the 2000s, when he published three books, including the unforgettable Refusing Heaven.

Gilbert's poems are marked by an authoritative, almost Biblical tone, but they deal frankly and honestly with sorrow, lust, destiny, love, and the nature of evil. Despite the weighty nature of his work, his poems remained able to connect with readers in an almost tender way.

He was one of my favorite writers. Some of my favorites of his poems include:

A Brief For The Defense
The Forgotten Dialect Of The Heart
Tear It Down
Failing And Flying
Searching For Pittsburgh
posted by eustacescrubb (15 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Cash4Lead at 12:54 PM on November 13, 2012

Damn. I just discovered Gilbert on the new releases tables at McNally-Jackson when his Collected Poems was released in March.

There are more poems at the Poetry Foundation web site.

There's also a Paris Review interview.
posted by Jahaza at 1:24 PM on November 13, 2012

Tear it Down... I can always go back to that.
posted by psylosyren at 1:31 PM on November 13, 2012

I loved his work. I'm glad he was here for as long as he was, especially since he didn't publish until his later years.

posted by dlugoczaj at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2012

posted by lubujackson at 1:38 PM on November 13, 2012

I always found the shapes of his poems to be very... carefully shaped. It's hard to explain, but I can definitely tell a Jack Gilbert poem just from the look of it. As ordinary as they may appear, they are always extraordinarily balanced.
posted by lubujackson at 1:41 PM on November 13, 2012


His poems have meant so much to me over the past few years. I can't believe he's gone.
posted by punchtothehead at 2:02 PM on November 13, 2012

Every wise man I met in Asia warned me against caring
Explained how everything I loved would get old
or be taken away and I would suffer
I tried to explain what a bargain it is.

- “Nights and Four Thousand Mornings” (1984)

I saw Gilbert at the Folger Theater in 2005, and even after his stroke he was a shamanic presence on stage. He kept the audience - most of which came to see Gary Snyder - practically leaning forward in close attention. Not seeing him when he was in good health is my biggest poetry-related regret (the Poet's House has videos in their collection, though.)

He was humble and funny, too. When I went to have Refusing Heaven signed, he thanked us for coming, pointed to the kid just visible at far right on the cover, laughed, and said - "you know that kid, I wasn't expecting him. He looks like he knows something important."
posted by ryanshepard at 2:15 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I met him when taking a workshop with Linda Gregg. Perhaps in the spirit of encouraging us youngster students, he reflected that poetry is largely a young poet's game: that when you've amassed what one might consider "a body of work" you find yourself having to be very careful/diligent to avoid going in circles rewriting your older material.
posted by juv3nal at 2:49 PM on November 13, 2012

poetry is largely a young poet's game

I wonder what he considered "young" since he was middle-aged before he published.
posted by eustacescrubb at 2:55 PM on November 13, 2012

I think, as I tried to explain, that "young" in context was not a function of age, but how much one has written.
posted by juv3nal at 2:57 PM on November 13, 2012

Ahhh, that makes sense.
posted by eustacescrubb at 3:01 PM on November 13, 2012

A recent discovery and a poet who "speaks" to me at this period in my life when I am currently struggling in my marriage...

This poem of Mr. Gilbert perfectly describes my situation.

Trying to be Married

Watching my wife out in the fall moon,
the sea bright behind her across the field
and through the trees. Eight years
and her love for me quieted away.
How fine she is. How hard we struggle.

Rest well Jack, and know that your words have meant much to those who found you.
posted by incandissonance at 3:27 PM on November 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

A Brief for the Defense is one of the most beautiful things I've ever read.

We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.

posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:27 PM on November 13, 2012

Failing and Flying is quite possibly the most moving piece of poetry I have ever read. Thanks and farewell, Mr. Gilbert.

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

posted by rahulrg at 5:18 AM on November 14, 2012

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