September 13, 2010

what a beautiful thing that can flash on a screen and be gone

Ann Forbush, Autumn Returns

* From a 2006 article on Jack Gilbert:

“I don’t want to be at peace,” Jack Gilbert pronounced shortly after his 80th birthday. Yet he has spent much of his life on remote Greek islands, on a houseboat in Kashmir, on a western Massachusetts farm, and in the remote outskirts of Sausalito, California, either alone or in the company of one other. He has never owned a home and has driven a car only twice. A sensible person might even say he’s sought a peace separate from the arena of the “career poets”—and maybe even separate from that of the career adult. But the unique kernel of Gilbert’s poetry is its fearless exploration of the adult heart. It takes a moment to have a fling or write one good line, but sustaining authentic emotional participation, as Gilbert has in his life as a poet, is terrifying and hard, and is practically a lost art.

Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh in 1925 and grew up in the East Liberty district. His father worked in the circus for a time and died after falling out the window of a Prohibition-era men’s club when Jack was 10. After failing out of Peabody High School, Gilbert sold Fuller brushes door-to-door, worked in steel mills, and accompanied his uncle to fumigate houses, a job he began when he was 10 years old. “The cyanide could knock you out with just one breath, and in a matter of minutes you’d be dead,” he said in 1991. “It was an eerie way to grow up.”

He was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh because of a clerical error, where he began writing poetry (having previously written only prose) and earned a B.A. in 1947. After several years in Paris, Aix-en-Provence, and Italy—a chapter notable for his relationship with Gianna Gelmetti, the first of the three women who appear in his best love poems—Gilbert made his way to San Francisco, where the Beat and Haight-Ashbury countercultures were beginning to thrive.
Back to San Francisco. Gilbert lived in the Bay Area for 11 years, from 1956 to 1967, during which time he attended San Francisco State, worked with Ansel Adams, took Jack Spicer’s magic workshop, and enjoyed a years-long friendly argument about poetry with Allen Ginsberg. As the story goes, Gilbert didn’t like much of Ginsberg's work until one day when Ginsberg walked through a roadless and undeveloped area of Sausalito to Gilbert's cabin. He read aloud from two pages of poetry he’d just written.

Gilbert liked it. It was the beginning of Ginsberg’s iconic poem “Howl,” read publicly for the first time in 1956 to wild acclaim, and published in 1958. Four years later Gilbert’s first book, Views of Jeopardy, won the Yale Younger Poets Prize and was nominated for a Pulitzer. Gilbert enjoyed a year and a half of stateside fame, then won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1964 and left for Greece with the poet Linda Gregg. Six years would pass before he returned.

* "I think the poetic genius is synthetic. A poet creates syntheses while the novelist analyzes." -- Octavio Paz


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