The Dance Most of All


In this “pithy and poignant” (Booklist) late-in-life collection, the award-winning Jack Gilbert gives us characteristically bold and nuanced poems as he revisits the passions of a lifetime—the women, the places, and the mysterious and lonely offices of poetry itself.

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The Dance Most of All: Poems

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In this “pithy and poignant” (Booklist) late-in-life collection, the award-winning Jack Gilbert gives us characteristically bold and nuanced poems as he revisits the passions of a lifetime—the women, the places, and the mysterious and lonely offices of poetry itself.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“These poems are deeply elegiac, looking back over a long life lived in the various modes one comes to associate with Gilbert: desire, love, longing, and happiness . . . For Gilbert, these poems suggest a satisfaction and peace with all he has done. For the rest of us, we may take Gilbert’s final work as a guide.” —The Oregonian

“The best poems here are valuable bulletins from a distant, private war fought over resources for affirmation, in which the most precious weapon is the capacity to ‘say grace over / almost everything.’” —Poetry
Publishers Weekly

This fifth collection from Gilbert (Refusing Heaven) adds an intense, almost nonstop nostalgia to the gifts his longtime devotees will recognize. After early success, Gilbert spent much of the 1960s and 1970s in rural Europe, far out of the limelight; he lived for years on a Greek island with his first wife, the poet Linda Gregg (to whom he dedicates this volume). Here he remembers his years in Greece, where "the blue Aegean is far down and the slow ships/ far out," and his almost equally bright years in rural Italy-though he also remembers the yearnings and struggles of "Growing Up in Pittsburgh." Even more than landscape or cityscape, though, Gilbert's gravelly blank verse, unrhymed sonnets and looser forms remember the pleasures and sad moments of the body and of the erotic life: "The shameful ardor/ and the shameless intimacy, the secret kinds/ of happiness and the walled-up childhoods," from first kisses to "the way love is after fifty." However tied to autobiography, Gilbert seeks not confessional poetry, but the older, more spiritually alert tradition of Rodin and Rilke: "The world is beyond us even as we own it," "Winter Happiness in Greece" begins; "It is a hugeness in which we climb towards." (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375711794
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 7/6/2010
  • Pages: 80
  • Sales rank: 958,743
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Jack Gilbert is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the National Book Critics Circle Award for Poetry and a Guggenheim Fellowship. Gilbert lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

THE SPELL CAST OVERIn the old days we could see nakedness onlyin the burlesque houses. In the lavishtheaters left over from vaudeville,ruined in the Great Depression. What had beengrand gestures of huge chandeliersand mythic heroes courting the goddesson the ceiling. Now the chandeliers were grimyand the ceilings hanging in tatters. It waslike the Russian aristocrats fleeingthe Revolution. Ending up as taxi driversin Paris dressed in their worn-out elegance.It was like that in the Pittsburgh of my days.Old men of shabby clothes in the emptyseats at the Roxy Theater dreamingof the sumptuous headlinersslowly discarding layers of theirlavish gowns. Baring the secretbeauty to the men of their season.The old men came from their one room(with its single, forbidden gas range)to watch the strippers.To remember what usedto be. Like the gray-haired men of Iliumwho waited each morning for Helento cross over to the temple in her light raiment.The waning men longed to escape from the spellcast over them by time.To escape the imprisonedlonging.To insist on dispensation.To seetheir young hearts just one more time.Those famous women like honeycombs.Women movingto the old music again. That former grace of flesh.The sheen of them in the sunlight, to watchthem walking by the sea.SOUTHIn the small towns along the rivernothing happens day after long day.Summer weeks stalled forever,and long marriages always the same.Lives with only emergencies, births,and fishing for excitement. Then a shipcomes out of the mist. Or comes aroundthe bend carefully one morningin the rain, past the pines and shrubs.Arrives on a hot fragrant night,grandly, all lit up. Gone two dayslater, leaving fury in its wake.For Susan Crosby Lawrence AndersonCHERISHING WHAT ISN'TAh, you three women whom I have loved in thislong life, along with the few others.And the four I may have loved, or stopped shortof loving. I wander through these woodsmaking songs of you. Some of regret, someof longing, and a terrible one of death.I carry the privacy of your bodiesand hearts in me. The shameful ardorand the shameless intimacy, the secret kindsof happiness and the walled-up childhoods.I carol loudly of you among trees emptiedof winter and rejoice quietly in summer.A score of women if you count love both largeand small, real ones that were briefand those that lasted. Gentle love and somealmost like an animal with its prey.What is left is what’s alive in me. The failingof your beauty and its remaining.You are like countries in which my lovetook place. Like a bell in the treesthat makes your music in each wind that moves.A music composed of what you have forgotten.That will end with my ending.

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