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Jack Gilbert’s Great Fire

Jack Gilbert is dead and outside it’s raining, the street in front of my apartment is empty of cars, the sky keeps moving around, gray and white like a sheet you might place over a body.

For me, Gilbert was one of the most important poets I have ever read. He was also one of the first poets I read who broke my heart and built up my heart at the same time. He was a poet who seemed to easily engage with his inner-life, was not shy about love or grief:

Jack Gilbert: 1925-2012 (Photo by Robert Toby)

“Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If Babies/ are not starving someplace, they are starving somewhere else./ With flies in their nostrils”


“Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts/ of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred/ pitchers of honey.”

Gilbert died on Tuesday, November 13th in Berkeley, California. The author of six books including a new and collected, he’s a poet not to be forgotten. If you are reading this right now you should stop, get online, and order a copy of The Great Fires. You should own Gilbert’s Collected Poems. You should carry his Refusing Heaven around for a month straight.

Gilbert was a poet of meditative and spiritual strength, a poet that made sense of the complicated world for the rest of us who could not. He is a poet to share with your loved ones and your enemies.

In his poem, Waking at Night, Gilbert wrote:

“I lie in the dark/ wondering if this quiet in me now/ is a beginning or an end”

Instead of an end let’s all share Gilbert’s work with others, let’s turn his new quiet into a radiant beginning!

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Posted in Poetry

Comments: 8

(101) Comments

  1. Excellent site you have got here.. It’s difficult to find high quality writing like yours these days. I really appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  2. Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thank you, However I am encountering troubles with your RSS. I don’t know the reason why I am unable to join it. Is there anybody else having similar RSS problems? Anyone that knows the solution will you kindly respond? Thanks!!

  3. Lisa Moy says:

    Jack Gilbert influenced so much of my poetry exactly because of what you shared about him being “one of the first poets who broke my heart and built up my heart at the same time.” I think he was the very first poet to have this extremely sad and tragically beautiful effect on me. Thanks for sharing this (even though I’m days late), I hope others can experience the impact of his words in a similar way.

  4. Gabriel Boehmer says:

    I had never even heard of Jack Gilbert until a couple years ago when you suggested i read Tear It Down, a poem he’d written about marriage in Great Fires: “We can break through marriage into marriage.” After that first flash, I read all of Great Fires in one sitting. Thank you for sharing Jack Gilbert with me then and again today. I will continue to pass him on…. There’s a wonderful interview with him in the Paris Review, Art of Poetry, No. 91, fall/winter 2005: http://www.theparisreview.org/interviews/5583/the-art-of-poetry-no-91-jack-gilbert

  5. Melissa Rodgers says:

    Great idea. I am in!

  6. Toni Hanner says:

    Next April, “Jack Gilbert Month” instead of “Poetry Month”?????

  7. Dorianne Laux says:

    Yes. Let’s. xoxo

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