Gilbert’s Early Life:
Jack Gilbert was born in 1925 and grew up during the Depression in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where he dropped out of high school and worked as a Fuller Brush man, in the steel mill and at other odd jobs before attending the University of Pittsburgh. After World War II, he lived in France and Italy, then landed in San Francisco among the Beats and was part of Jack Spicer’s “Poetry As Magic” workshop. His first book, Views of Jeopardy (1962), won the Yale Younger Poets Prize and made him a literary celebrity.
Gilbert as Exile:
In 1964, Gilbert left the US again, armed with a Guggenheim Fellowship and accompanied by poet Linda Gregg. For more than 20 years, he lived in the Greek islands, in Denmark, England, France and Japan, and around the world, getting by on occasional teaching gigs and visiting poet stipends. His second book, Monolithos (1982), was published 20 years after the first, taking its title from his time on Santorini. He kept his distance from the American poetry and publishing “establishment” until near the end of his life, eschewing fame and career, working in self-chosen obscurity, in exile. His Collected Poems, including the contents of five previous collections as well as a number of poems that had not appeared in any of his books, was published by Knopf in the spring of 2012, and he died in Berkeley, California in November 2012, after the long decline of Alzheimer’s disease.
Gilbert as Poet:
Gilbert’s subjects are the big poetic topics—love and death—but his poems find their depth in exquisitely sensitive revelation of daily experience. His work was devoted to a long and unflinching exploration of the human heart, and many of his best poems are love poems. His style is spare and direct; he didn’t play word games and his ornaments were subtle, integral. His poems are not linguistically difficult, but they are profounding affecting, inspiring a fierce loyalty in his readers.
Books by Jack Gilbert:
- Collected Poems (Knopf, 2012)
- The Dance Most of All (poems, Knopf, 2009; paperback 2010)
- Refusing Heaven (poems, Random House, 2005; paperback 2007)
- The Great Fires: Poems 1982 - 1992 (Knopf, 1994; paperback, 1996)
- Monolithos: Poems 1962 and 1982 (Knopf, 1982; Graywolf Press paperback, 1984)
- Views of Jeopardy (Vol. 58 of the Yale Series of Younger Poets, 1962, reprinted 2011)