Skip to main content

Poetry Focus: Jack Gilbert

Jack Gilbert by Don McGrath

A Slate magazine review of Jack Gilbert’s Refusing Heaven (2005), his fourth volume in a 50-year career, bore the title Rescuing the Poet Jack Gilbert from Oblivion. In 1962, Gilbert’s first volume, Views of Jeopardy, obtained the Yales Series of Younger Poets award and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Gilbert was roundly fêted and even given photo spreads in Vogue and Glamour. But after attaining literary celebrity, Gilbert turned his back on it the following year, when he moved to Europe to live a hand-to-mouth existence. This was the first stage of a long self-imposed isolation from the United States in Italy, Greece, Denmark, Japan and England.

Gilbert began his poetic life in the company of the Beats but felt their casual and often boisterious style at odds with his own ascetic impulses. He felt a need for solitude and the pared down, hard-won style he developed within it became, at times, a source of anxiety over his American reception. In Views of Jeopardy we read:

What if Orpheus,
confident in the hard-
found mastery,
should go down into Hell?
Out of the clean light down?
and then, surrounded
by the closing beasts
and readying his lyre
should notice, suddenly,
they had no ears.

Gilbert’s solitude was not absolute: he was married twice, first to the poet Linda Gregg and then to the sculptor Michiko Nogami. Nogami, who died of cancer at age 36, spurred him to write some of his best poems. Some feminists have taken issue with Gilbert, claiming that he idealizes woman as vessels of mystery, but Meghan O’Rourke, author of the Slate review, tells us that Gilbert was aware of this danger. He wrote :

It got me thinking of the failed denomination
I was part of: that old false dream of women.
I believed it was a triumph to have access to their mystery…………
I had crazy ideas of what it was.

Gilbert’s two other books are Monolithos and The Great Fires : Poems, 1982-1992.

Don McGrath is a Canadian poet.
Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

SEXTON SHORTLIST!

Announcing the Shortlist for the 2016 Sexton PrizeSeptember 13, 2016 / By Kelly Davio
Eyewear Publishing is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Sexton Prize. The finalists are, in no particular order, as follows:


THE BARBAROUS CENTURY, Leah Umansky
HISTORY OF GONE, Lynn Schmeidler
SEVERE CLEAR, Maya Catherine Popa
GIMME THAT. DON’T SMITE ME, Steve Kronen
SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER REDEPLOYMENTS, David McAleavey
AN AMERICAN PURGATORY, Rebecca Gayle Howell
SIT IN THE DARK WITH ME, Jesse Lee Kercheval

The shortlist was selected by Eyewear’s Director Todd Swift with Senior Editor Kelly Davio. Don Share of Poetry Magazine will select the winning manuscript, which will be released at the 2017 AWP conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced in October. 
Congratulations to our finalists!