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About this poet

On February 18, 1925, Jack Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was educated in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, where he later participated in Jack Spicer's famous "Poetry as Magic" Workshop at San Francisco State College in 1957.

His first book, Views of Jeopardy (Yale University Press, 1962) won the Yale Younger Poets Series and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Soon after publishing his first book, Gilbert received a Guggenheim Fellowship and subsequently moved abroad, living in England, Denmark, and Greece. During that time, he also toured fifteen countries as a lecturer on American Literature for the U.S. State Department. Nearly twenty years after completing Views of Jeopardy, he published his second book, Monolithos, which won the Stanley Kunitz Prize and the American Poetry Review Prize. The collection takes its title from Greek, meaning "single stone," and refers to the landscape where he lived on the island of Santorini.

About Gilbert's work, the poet James Dickey said, "He takes himself away to a place more inward than is safe to go; from that awful silence and tightening, he returns to us poems of savage compassion."

Gilbert is also the author of Collected Poems (Knopf, 2012); The Dance Most of All (2009); Transgressions: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2006); Refusing Heaven (2005); winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992 (1996).

His other awards and honors include the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Gilbert was the 1999-2000 Grace Hazard Conkling writer-in-residence at Smith College and a visiting professor and writer-in-residence at the University of Tennessee in 2004. Gilbert died on November 13, 2012 in Berkeley, California after a long battle with Alzheimer's. He was 87.

Failing and Flying

Jack Gilbert, 1925 - 2012

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Copyright © 2005 Jack Gilbert. From Refusing Heaven, 2005, Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission.

Copyright © 2005 Jack Gilbert. From Refusing Heaven, 2005, Alfred A. Knopf. Reprinted with permission.

Jack Gilbert

Jack Gilbert

The author of several collections of poetry, Jack Gilbert has been awarded a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry and the National Book Critics Circle Award

by this poet

poem
Of course it was a disaster.
The unbearable, dearest secret
has always been a disaster.
The danger when we try to leave.
Going over and over afterward
what we should have done
instead of what we did.
But for those short times
we seemed to be alive. Misled,
misused, lied to and cheated,
certainly. Still, for that
poem
There was no water at my grandfather's
when I was a kid and would go for it
with two zinc buckets. Down the path,
past the cow by the foundation where
the fine people's house was before
they arranged to have it burned down.
To the neighbor's cool well. Would
come back with pails too heavy,
so my mouth pulled out
poem
We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see