Jack Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh. He is the author of The Great Fires: Poems 1982—1992; Monolithos, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Views of Jeopardy, the 1962 winner of the Yale Younger Poets Prize. He has also published a limited edition of elegiac poems under the title Kochan. The recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, Gilbert lives in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Refusing Heavenby Jack Gilbert
More than a decade after Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires, this highly anticipated new collection shows the continued development of a poet who has remained fierce in his avoidance of the beaten path. In Refusing Heaven, Gilbert writes compellingly about the commingled passion, loneliness, and sometimes surprising happiness of a life spent in/i>/i>
More than a decade after Jack Gilbert’s The Great Fires, this highly anticipated new collection shows the continued development of a poet who has remained fierce in his avoidance of the beaten path. In Refusing Heaven, Gilbert writes compellingly about the commingled passion, loneliness, and sometimes surprising happiness of a life spent in luminous understanding of his own blessings and shortcomings: “The days and nights wasted . . . Long hot afternoons / watching ants while the cicadas railed / in the Chinese elm about the brevity of life.” Time slows down in these poems, as Gilbert creates an aura of curiosity and wonder at the fact of existence itself. Despite powerful intermittent griefs–over the women he has parted from or the one lost to cancer (an experience he captures with intimate precision)–Gilbert’s choice in this volume is to “refuse heaven.” He prefers this life, with its struggle and alienation and delight, to any paradise. His work is both a rebellious assertion of the call to clarity and a profound affirmation of the world in all its aspects. It braces the reader in its humanity and heart.
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This is an awesome collection to have in one's own library. Everyone should own this work, along with Ohio Blue Tips by Jeanne E. Clark, The Photos In The Closet by Daniel E. Lopez, and works by Alison Townsend.
I can remember the first time I came across Jack Gilbert's poetry in a bookstore in Lancaster,PA in 1994. Even remember the shelf it was located on. His poems, most less than a page, seem as if they are distilled to what can be said in a dying breath. His succinct,unadorned poems about his late wife, Michiko, in his previous volume, 'The Great Fires,' are what love and loss is like in an adult relationship. Although the temptation exists to read 'Refusing Heaven' as a summing up of a remarkable life-- memories of Pittsburgh, Paris, and Greece commingle with recollections of friends and past loves-- there is a stubborn refusal to leave this earth. '... What fine provender in the want. What freshness in me amid the loneliness(How Much of That is Left in Me).' Or, 'I am not at peace, I tell her. I want to fail. I am hungry for what I am becoming. What will you do? she asks. I will continue north, carrying the past in my arms, flying into winter (Bring in the Gods)' The ancient Chinese poets are cherished for how they could distill a life into a line. This type of severe compression is abundant throughout Gilbert's poetry. 'He thinks about how important the sinning was, how much his equity was in simply being alive (Transgressions).' Like Louise Gluck, who can still make mythology relevant, Gilbert honors the memory of Icarus in his divorce from the poet Linda Gregg: 'Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew... I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, but just coming to the end of his triumph(Failing and Flying).' Gilbert demonstrates that memorable poetry need not be verbose and utilize algabraic literary allusions to succeed in capturing a reader's interest. Literature, like life, has certainly evolved since biblical times, however, like the Bible, the same direct writing found in Gilbert's work remain a source of spiritual renewal.