Jack Gilbert, who eschewed the literary fame that came his way with the 1962 Yale Younger Poets Prize, lived in a long-time exile from the US and the American poetry scene, and published only five books over a span of 50 years, nonetheless became known as a poet’s poet, inspiring fierce loyalty in his readers. It was 20 years after that first publication before his second book, Monolithos, came out, and it was 2006 before he really arrived back in the limelight, when his fourth collection, Refusing Heaven, won the National Book Critics Circle award in poetry. He lived and taught for many years in Northhampton, Massachusetts, but in recent years has suffered from dementia, and was living in a care facility in Berkeley, California when he passed away last Sunday.
Jim Finnegan wrote an impromptu profile of Jack Gilbert during a 2006 discussion of reading styles and poetic careers on the NewPoetry email list, and very kindly granted us permission to publish it at About Poetry. Our reference page on Gilbert has book links if you want to read his poems. He will be missed—but his poems, spare and precise and direct and suffused with emotional power, will last.
from The New York Times:
“Jack Gilbert, a Poet Whose Words Transformed Lives, Is Dead at 87” by Bruce Weber
“Jack Gilbert, a poet whose frank, forthright, emotionally fraught works observed the grand universal realities of love and death from a perspective off the literary grid.... Famous for eschewing fame, he did not go to writers’ conferences or cocktail parties, gave readings sporadically and did not publish a great deal, either....”
from The Los Angeles Times:
“Poet Jack Gilbert’s time of triumph and loss” by John Penner
This profile was written just before he died, based on the writer’s visit to the nursing-care home where he witnessed “this great silence of Gilbert’s last years” in the context of the triumph of his complete Collected Poems, published just last spring.