Jack Gilbert

These two posts about Jack Gilbert are worth reading.

I took a poetry workshop with Jack during his year as writer in residence at Smith (1999-2000). It was my first year there, and I was still writing poetry (I don’t any more). I remember Jack as a quiet, slightly mischievous presence, already a bit frail but still sharp. He would casually mention poets he’d known, in a sort of “one time I was at a party and Allen Ginsberg said X to me” way — not name-dropping, just friends he’d had, people who had been important to him. If I remember rightly, he told us he’d been in love two and three-quarter times, or maybe it was three and three-quarters. I don’t know what he thought of my poetry, which is fair enough considering that I don’t know what I think of it, either, but I do remember the time he told me a poem was complete just as it was. I got the feeling that that was high praise from him.

I saw him once in my senior year at Smith; he was still living in Northampton. Another famous older male poet came to read — I can’t even recall who — and I ran into Jack after the reading was over. “Well, look at you,” he said. “All grown up. You look like an adult now.” I did look different; I’d grown my hair longer and lost some baby fat, though I don’t know if that’s all he meant. I think I thanked him for his class. Maybe I told him I was writing fiction.

He had a new book published in 2009, and now, apparently, he’s living in a nursing home in Berkeley and suffering from Alzheimer’s. He’s about 85 years old. I had just seen a mention of him somewhere, a few days ago, and thought for a moment about sending him a copy of Alcestis, just in case he’d want to see it. I don’t know if he would’ve remembered me even pre-Alzheimer’s, but I like to think that he’d be happy to see a former student published. I wish I’d had a chance to tell him how much I love this poem.


  1. I remember hearing about him at Smith, but didn’t know his poetry. There were some stunning pieces quoted in those blog posts. I definitely want to read more.

    ‘Dreaming at the Ballet’ made me think of Alcestis indirectly.

  2. It’s funny, I tend to like poems that are more formal than his poetry, but I like his stuff very much partly because I can imagine him reading it.

    Hee to “Dreaming at the Ballet.” Yes.

  3. I’ve been living under a rock, so I didn’t know Jack Gilbert existed. Finding his poetry through your blog today has helped unknot an old anger I couldn’t let go of. After reading your posts and The Compass Rose’s, I ran to pick up a copy of REFUSING HEAVEN. This is good medicine. Thank you.

    I like to think there is a place, an alternate reality, where we say and do all the things we meant to and timing is impeachable.

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