“A Brief For The Defense” and more – Jack Gilbert
Image from: http://likesuccess.com/author/jack-gilbert
I’ve just discovered poet Jack Gilbert.
You may love his poems too. Here are a few to get you started:
A Brief For The Defense
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies
are not starving someplace, they are starving
somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
Otherwise the mornings before summer dawn would not
be made so fine. The Bengal tiger would not
be fashioned so miraculously well. The poor women
at the fountain are laughing together between
the suffering they have known and the awfulness
in their future, smiling and laughing while somebody
in the village is very sick. There is laughter
every day in the terrible streets of Calcutta,
and the women laugh in the cages of Bombay.
If we deny our happiness, resist our satisfaction,
we lessen the importance of their deprivation.
We must risk delight. We can do without pleasure,
but not delight. Not enjoyment. We must have
the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless
furnace of this world. To make injustice the only
measure of our attention is to praise the Devil.
If the locomotive of the Lord runs us down,
we should give thanks that the end had magnitude.
We must admit there will be music despite everything.
We stand at the prow again of a small ship
anchored late at night in the tiny port
looking over to the sleeping island: the waterfront
is three shuttered cafés and one naked light burning.
To hear the faint sound of oars in the silence as a rowboat
comes slowly out and then goes back is truly worth
all the years of sorrow that are to come.
Failing and Flying
BY JACK GILBERT
Source: Refusing Heaven (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)
Image from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icarus
THE SIXTH MEDITATION: FACES OF GOD
“It is convenient for the old men to blame Eve.
To insist we are damned because a country girl
talked to the snake one afternoon long ago.
Children must starve in Somalia for that,
and old women be abandoned in our greatest cities.
It’s why we will finally be thrown into the lakes
of molten lead. Because she was confused
by happiness that first time anyone said
she was beautiful. Nevertheless, she must be
the issue, so people won’t notice that rocks
and galaxies, mathematics and rust are also
created in His image” (p. 382).
From The Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert
Poetry Foundation says this about the poet:
“Jack Gilbert 1925–2012
When Jack Gilbert won the Yale Younger Poets prize in 1962 for Views of Jeopardy, he attained a kind of allure usually foreign to poets. His photo was featured in Esquire, Vogue, and Glamour, and his book was often stolen from the library. A Guggenheim Fellowship enabled him to go to Europe; he spent much of the ensuing two decades living modestly abroad. Although the literary world embraced him early in his career, he was something of a self-imposed exile: flunking out of high school; congregating with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Spicer in San Francisco but never really writing like a Beat poet; living in Europe and writing American poetry inspired by Pound and Eliot.
A self-described “serious romantic,” Gilbert had a relationship with poet Linda Gregg, and was later married to sculptor Michiko Nogami, who died after 11 years of marriage. Many of his poems are about these relationships and losses. Gilbert’s fourth book, Refusing Heaven (2005), contains, as poet Dan Albergotti describes, “poems about love, loss, and grief that defy all expectations of sentimentality. All of them are part of the larger poem, the poem that is the life of the poet, perhaps the most profound and moving piece of work to come out of American literature in generations.”
Refusing Heaven won the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Gilbert’s work has also received a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. His second book of poetry, Monolithos (1982), won the Stanley Kunitz Prize and the American Poetry Review Prize. Despite these awards, some critics have ignored or dismissed Gilbert, and critic Meghan O’Rourke, writing for Slate in 2005, pondered why: “Gilbert isn’t just a remarkable poet. He’s a poet whose directness and lucidity ought to appeal to lots of readers . . . the poet who stands outside his own time, practicing a poetics of purity in an ever-more cacophonous world—a lyrical ghost, you might say, from a literary history that never came to be.”
In an essay he wrote to introduce his own work in the anthology New American Poets of the Golden Gate (1984), Gilbert pointed to the spareness of his work: “I am by nature drawn to exigence, compression, selection,” he wrote. “One of the special pleasures in poetry for me is accomplishing a lot with the least means possible.” Publishing only four books since he began writing over 50 years ago reinforces for his readers Gilbert’s love of economy. In a 2006 interview on NPR, he reflected on his relatively sparse list of publications: “It’s not a business with me . . . . I’m not a professional of poetry, I’m a farmer of poetry.”