“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:

Bengal Tiger

“The Bengal tiger would not/be fashioned so miraculously well”

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


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.

Source: Refusing Heaven (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005)

From: http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/177687


Jacob Peter Gowy’s “The Flight of Icarus”

Image from:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icarus


“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

Collected Poems

Collected Poems

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 EsquireVogue, 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.”




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About reneeriley

Our blog was begun as a way to share our experiences in China. From August 2010 to July 2011, my husband, Barry Kristel, and I were at our University of Hawaii Maui College sister school, Zhejiang Agriculture and Forestry University in Lin'an, China, a city considered rural because it has only 500,000 people! We had a wonderful time. Then in February 2012, we returned to teach this time at our other sister school, Shanghai Normal University, in a city of over 21 million people. We've made many discoveries. Did you know that now Chinese girls, at least the ones who go to university, for the most part feel they are luckier than the Chinese boys? Did you know that Shanghai saved over 20,000 European Jews during WWII? Do you know how Chinese university students would deal with problems that come up in Dear Abby letters? What's it like to be on the Great Wall of China? Do you know how many Chinese girls had their feet bound and why? And we have recipes from many of the places we've visited. Among others, you can find instructions on how to fry cicadas from one of my ZAFU students and how to make chocolate-Kahlua waffles from my brother Mike in Gainesville. You can also look back to our earliest entry to see what we experienced in Oaxaca, Mexico, in 2006 during the mainly peaceful six months of protest until the Mexican government sent in the troops. Between our stays in China, Barry and I have been on the Mainland U.S. visiting family, friends and Servas hosts as we traveled home to Maui. We share those experiences too. Welcome to our blog! Aloha and Zài Jiàn, Renée and Barry

11 responses to ““A Brief For The Defense” and more – Jack Gilbert”

  1. Rosita says :

    I loved those poems. I think we’re accustomed to see poverty, but NOT extreme misery, as it occurs in Haiti and Ethiopia, but I think that exists a lot of other countries who enfrents this situation. How sad! 😦 but I think that misery exist to make us know that we’re at dreadful and nasty Planet Earth rather than in Paradise, for us take care better of our own planet, and if a rich person see a miserable one, can neglect and don’t help it, who’s sad, so, I think that a rich person have to help a miserable one, because I believe in karma, and it’s one of the many forms of make the world a better place for all us 🙂 I suffered a lot recently, so, I believe that tomorrow can be a better day and I never lost my hope that one day all of us can live in an Earthly Paradise, independently of species. I made a poem about my ideal of perfect world:

    If the world would be a better place
    Without poverty, without inequalities
    All of us living a perfect life for now as well
    And above us, none hell

    Only a paradisiacal beach and harmony
    Without harm or suffering
    Only happiness and equality
    None war, none hunger, none reason to kill or be killed

    Humans and animals sharing a peaceful world
    Without wars, only kind acts and words
    A world without any war, hunger or other form of suffering
    None reason to kill or be killed
    Only happiness and harmony flowing

    It would be my ideal of perfect world for all of us. What do you think? 😉 I’m a pacifist and an optimist person, so, I dream with a better world, I don’t lost the trust on humanity, because I have to agree that exist some bad persons and a lot of good persons, who try to make the world a better place for all of us. I’ll write a book, as I talked you in the post about Ubud, Bali island, because people sometimes talks that I have future in the world of words 🙂 I have hope of the world become a better place. Persons like I and you are making of the world a better place for humanity, like some religious leaders, Pope and Dalai Lama, too. If all of us make our part on it, without any form of violence, only peace, kindness and tolerance the world would become a better place for all of us, of course.

    • reneeriley says :

      Hi Rosita: Perhaps because you have suffered, you can recognize the suffering in other people. And I agree with you that we can all make a difference and work toward creating a world of peace, kindness, and tolerance. It won’t be easy, but we must each do what we can. I hope all is well with you, your family, and of course, your dogs. Aloha, Renee

      • Rosita says :

        Oh, thank you! ☺️ your answer can’t be more correct. Keep tranquil, it’s all going well with me, my family and my dogs. I agree that we still have to do much if we would like to live in an earthly paradise. I think that if bad things occurs with bad people, I would say it’s karma, but when it occurs with good persons, I really don’t know what’s. But I know only one thing: we must be hopeful and optimist about the future, because it can change on a flash 😉

  2. Rosita says :

    Oh, thank you! ☺️ your answer can’t be more correct. Keep tranquil, it’s all going well with me, my family and my dogs. I agree that we still have to do much if we would like to live in an earthly paradise. I think that if bad things occurs with bad people, I would say it’s karma, but when it occurs with good persons, I really don’t know what’s, but my friends usually says that I’m a very strong person, so, I think that those things who occurred with me made me a more strong person and teached me to never give up my dreams neither think positively, because all we know can change in a flash 😉

  3. Rosita says :

    Oh, thank you! ☺️ your answer can’t be more correct. Keep tranquil, it’s all going well with me, my family and my dogs. I agree that we still have to do much if we would like to live in an earthly paradise. I believe that if bad things occurs with bad people, I would say it’s karma, but when it occurs with good persons, I really don’t know what’s. I think that we never have to give up of our dreams, if they’re good and will serve to benefice us of any form, neither think positively about the world, because all we know can change in a flash 😉

  4. reneeriley says :

    Hi Rosita: I’m glad to hear your report that things are going well for you. I too can’t understand why good people suffer from bad things. Sometimes those bad times help make a person stronger or wiser or more compassionate, but sometimes it doesn’t seem that anything comes of it except suffering. I agree with you that being hopeful and optimistic – and conscious doing what we can is the way we can live. Aloha, Renee

  5. reneeriley says :

    P.S. I like your poem.

  6. fivestringguitar says :

    Thank you for sharing this. I am now over the moon at this discovery! Namaste! David

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