I have been reading Jack Gilbert all day while.the swealtering heat blankets everything and dampens every attempt to move. Mostly I’ve been reading from Refusing Heaven, a book whose contemplative solitude seems fit for such a motionless day. But it is not simply the heat resonating here, though many of the poems do seem to lift themselves out of a sun-drenched Agean landscape. For me, this day, Gilbert creates a space to fit personal history back into the world. Here, where I am keenly aware that most of my history is already written and where it would be all too easy to find the world wanting, Gilbert is nothing if not good company.
“He sits outside on the wall of his vineyard
as night rises from the parched earth and the sea
darkens in the distance. Insistent stars and him
singing in the quiet. Flesh of the spirit and soul
of the body. The clarity that does so much damage. ” (Résumé)
I don’t pretend, of course that this begins to represent Jack Gilbert’s work in any way; I have only just begun to journey through the new Collected Poems and I am keenly aware that my response is entirely my own. Still, in the midst of this withering swelter, it is true sustenance.
“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.” (A Brief for the Defense)