Refusing Heaven

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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.


From the Hardcover edition.
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About the author

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.


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Additional Information

Publisher
Knopf
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Published on
Apr 2, 2009
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Pages
112
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ISBN
9780307543943
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Criticism / Poetry
Literary Criticism / Semiotics & Theory
Poetry / American / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Honored in "Best Books of the Year" listings from The New Yorker, National Public Radio, Library Journal, and The Huffington Post.

"One With Others represents Wright's most audacious experiment yet."—The New Yorker

"[A] book . . . that defies description and discovers a powerful mode of its own."— National Public Radio

"[A] searing dissection of hate crimes and their malignant legacy."—Booklist

Today, Gentle Reader,
the sermon once again: "Segregation
After Death." Showers in the a.m.
The threat they say is moving from the east.
The sheriff's club says Not now. Not
nokindofhow. Not never. The children's
minds say Never waver. Air
fanned by a flock of hands in the old
funeral home where the meetings
were called [because Mrs. Oliver
owned it free and clear], and
that selfsame air, sanctified
and doomed, rent with racism, and
it percolates up from the soil itself . . .

In this National Book Award finalist and National Book Critics Circle Award finalist, C.D. Wright returns to her native Arkansas and examines explosive incidents grounded in the Civil Rights Movement. In her signature style, Wright interweaves oral histories, hymns, lists, interviews, newspaper accounts, and personal memories—especially those of her incandescent mentor, Mrs. Vittitow—with the voices of witnesses, neighbors, police, and activists. This history leaps howling off the page.

C.D. Wright has published over a dozen works of poetry and prose. Among her honors are the Griffin Poetry Prize and a MacArthur Fellowship. She teaches at Brown University and lives outside of Providence, Rhode Island.

A remarkable late-in-life collection, elegiac and bracing, from master poet Jack Gilbert, whose Refusing Heaven captivated the poetry world and won the National Book Critics Circle Award as well as the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

In these characteristically bold and nuanced poems, Gilbert looks back at the passions of a life—the women, and his memories of all the stages of love; the places (Paris, Greece, Pittsburgh); the mysterious and lonely offices of poetry itself. We get illuminating glimpses of the poet’s background and childhood, in poems like “Going Home” (his mother the daughter of sharecroppers, his father the black sheep in a family of rich Virginia merchants) and “Summer at Blue Creek, North Carolina,” a classic scene of pulling water from the well, sounding the depths.

The title of the collection is drawn from the startling “Ovid in Tears,” in which the poet figure has fallen and is carried out, muttering faintly: “White stone in the white sunlight . . . Both the melody / and the symphony. The imperfect dancing / in the beautiful dance. The dance most of all.” Gilbert reminds us that there is beauty to be celebrated in the imperfect—“a worth / to the unshapely our sweet mind founders on”—and at the same time there is “the harrowing by mortality.” Yet, without fail, he embraces the state of grief and loss as part of the dance.

The culmination of a career spanning more than half a century of American poetry, The Dance Most of All is a book to celebrate and to read again and again.


From the Hardcover edition.
This is Jack Gilbert's first book since the now-legendary Views of Jeopardy appeared as the 1962 entry in the Yale Series of Younger Poets. Beat poetry was much in vogue at the time, a discursive poetry that rages against things as they are. Perhaps it was for this reason the strict compression of Jack Gilbert's work and its celebration of an ideal of romantic love caused such a sensation. The Times declared him "one of the most exciting voices of the second half of our centruy." Standley Kunitz called him "a civilization and an artist." There was praise from other notable poets—Stephen Spender, Muriel Rukeyser, and Theodore Roethke among them—such considerable praise that a nationwide tour was arranged. Gilbert set aside his solitary life abroad and returned to the United States to speak to the audience that now awaited him, so arousing those who came to hear him that only the readings offered by Dylan Thomas a decade earlier might be seen in the same exceptional light. But at the conclusion of that tour, Gilbert vanished—back to Italy, Greece, Japan—entering a silence that lasted twenty years and which now ends with the oublication of Monolithos, a selection of new work and of some of the poems first seen in Views of Jeopardy. These are poems about lust, how it succeeds, how it fails—not as the succumbing to desire, nor the getting of flesh, but as the honoring of the impulse to know, to possess "the great knowledge of breasts with their loud nipples," to know everything that a man might know of a woman "in all her fresh particularity of difference." Often harsh in their expression, and always rigorous in their displeasure with what is ornamental and easy, Gilbert's poems speak with the stern syntax of the mind, and yet their text is the ways of the heart, the effort to master a passion too great to be encompassed, to subdue it with the instrument of language, to claim the primacy of "what abounds, what times there are, my fine house that love is." What issues from this concern is a poetry of the severest modulation and of an obsessive will for the exact—a poetry that is astringent, illuminated, and of the first importance.
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