The Great Fires: Poems, 1982-1992

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JOYCE'S MOTTO has had much fame but few apostles. Among them, there has been Jack Gilbert and his orthodoxy, a strictness that has required of this poet, now in the seventh decade of his severe life, the penalty of his having had almost no fame at all. In an era that puts before the artist so many sleek and official temptations, keeping unflinchingly to a code of "silence, exile, and cunning" could not have been managed without a show of strictness well beyond the reach of the theater of the coy.

The "far, stubborn, disastrous" course of Jack Gilbert's resolute journey--not one that would promise in time to bring him home to the consolations of Penelope and the comforts of Ithaca but one that would instead take him ever outward to the impossible blankness of the desert--could never have been achieved in the society of others. What has kept this great poet brave has been the difficult company of his poems--and now we have, in Gilbert's third and most silent book, what may be, what must be, the bravest of these imperial accomplishments.

 
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About the author

Jack Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh. He has published Views of Jeopardy, the 1962 winner of the Yale Younger Poets Series, and Monolithos. Both books were nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. A third volume, elegiac poems, was bought out, in a limited edition, under the title Kochan. Mr. Gilbert has been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.


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Additional Information

Publisher
Knopf
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Published on
Sep 11, 2013
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Pages
112
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ISBN
9780307760876
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Features
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Language
English
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Genres
Literary Collections / American / General
Literary Criticism / Poetry
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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Jack Gilbert
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.
Jack Gilbert
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.
Jack Gilbert
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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