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About this poet

On February 18, 1925, Jack Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He was educated in Pittsburgh and San Francisco, where he later participated in Jack Spicer's famous "Poetry as Magic" Workshop at San Francisco State College in 1957.

His first book, Views of Jeopardy (Yale University Press, 1962) won the Yale Younger Poets Series and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. Soon after publishing his first book, Gilbert received a Guggenheim Fellowship and subsequently moved abroad, living in England, Denmark, and Greece. During that time, he also toured fifteen countries as a lecturer on American Literature for the U.S. State Department. Nearly twenty years after completing Views of Jeopardy, he published his second book, Monolithos, which won the Stanley Kunitz Prize and the American Poetry Review Prize. The collection takes its title from Greek, meaning "single stone," and refers to the landscape where he lived on the island of Santorini.

About Gilbert's work, the poet James Dickey said, "He takes himself away to a place more inward than is safe to go; from that awful silence and tightening, he returns to us poems of savage compassion."

Gilbert is also the author of Collected Poems (Knopf, 2012); The Dance Most of All (2009); Transgressions: Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books 2006); Refusing Heaven (2005); winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, and The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992 (1996).

His other awards and honors include the Lannan Literary Award for Poetry and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Gilbert was the 1999-2000 Grace Hazard Conkling writer-in-residence at Smith College and a visiting professor and writer-in-residence at the University of Tennessee in 2004. Gilbert died on November 13, 2012 in Berkeley, California after a long battle with Alzheimer's. He was 87.

Horses at Midnight Without a Moon

Jack Gilbert, 1925 - 2012
Our heart wanders lost in the dark woods.
Our dream wrestles in the castle of doubt.
But there's music in us. Hope is pushed down
but the angel flies up again taking us with her.
The summer mornings begin inch by inch
while we sleep, and walk with us later
as long-legged beauty through
the dirty streets. It is no surprise 
that danger and suffering surround us.
What astonishes is the singing.
We know the horses are there in the dark
meadow because we can smell them,
can hear them breathing. 
Our spirit persists like a man struggling 
through the frozen valley
who suddenly smells flowers
and realizes the snow is melting
out of sight on top of the mountain,
knows that spring has begun.

From Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert. Copyright © 2012 by Jack Gilbert. Reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf. All rights reserved.

From Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert. Copyright © 2012 by Jack Gilbert. Reprinted with permission of Alfred A. Knopf. All rights reserved.

Jack Gilbert

Jack Gilbert

The author of several collections of poetry, Jack Gilbert has been awarded a Lannan Literary Award for Poetry and the National Book Critics Circle Award

by this poet

poem
There was no water at my grandfather's
when I was a kid and would go for it
with two zinc buckets. Down the path,
past the cow by the foundation where
the fine people's house was before
they arranged to have it burned down.
To the neighbor's cool well. Would
come back with pails too heavy,
so my mouth pulled out
poem
We find out the heart only by dismantling what
the heart knows. By redefining the morning,
we find a morning that comes just after darkness.
We can break through marriage into marriage.
By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond
affection and wade mouth-deep into love.
We must unlearn the constellations to see
poem
In the small towns along the river
nothing 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 ship
comes out of the mist. Or comes around
the bend carefully one morning
in the rain, past the pines