Writing

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.

5 Comments

  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.

  4. Hello K.B,Have you read the poem “ELEGY” in page 13 of his 2009 book, which really made me puzzled.

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