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Refusing Heaven

4.31 of 5 stars 4.31  ·  rating details  ·  958 ratings  ·  83 reviews
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 ofthe 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 ...more
ebook, 112 pages
Published April 1st 2009 by Knopf Publishing Group (first published March 8th 2005)
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I love Jack Gilbert. He's always living in a stone hut in the countryside of Greece or Ireland and noticing the things that people only notice when they've been alone way too long and have a talent for observation. The result is quiet poems. Even the images are quiet.

The Abandoned Valley

Can you understand being alone so long
you would go out in the middle of the night
and put a bucket into the well
so you could feel something down there
tug at the other end of the rope?
This is an exquisite book. It is heart-breaking and I've read and re-read it so many times I've lost count. An old man looks back on his life. He remembers old lovers and former wives. He remembers his wife who died of cancer when she was in her thirties. It is achingly lovely. It hurts in a good way to read this.
As an addendum there is an excellent critical review of this book on, written by Megan O'Rourke. Just search for the book title or Jack Gilbert.
James Murphy
I'd read this before, though I'm unsure exactly when. I came to it again after having been impressed with the Jack Gilbert I found in a Paris Review interview. Refusing Heaven hadn't previously dazzled me--I don't remember it and I'd rated it low in the systems we play with. I suspect I read it too fast because I now think it's not poetry to be easily dismissed. I saw so much more this reading. You begin poems as refined as these as if you're approaching a still, quiet pool. But in each the ligh ...more
I purchased this book a couple of years ago but never finished it. It somehow inadvertently ended up shelved along with books I had read and remained hidden there.

Recently, I read Gilbert's fantastic The Dance Most of All and sought this out as I remembered that I had purchased it before.

Unfortunately, I found why I had lost interest in it. I can't really put my finger on why I liked this volume so much less. The opening poem, A Brief For The Defense, was a great start and many of the poems are
Here's a poet who writes about his time with specificity and perspective at the same time, able to step in and out of the period in which he lives. The poems are about both time and timelessness, and are often of stunning beauty. Their only drawback for me as a woman is that they are so masculine. Making love to women is a way for Gilbert to know God, but he can never place himself inside a woman's mind, nor can a woman be a real poet for him. The women in his poems may be adored, but they are a ...more
Nicholas During
A bit torn about this book. In many regards they are truly beautiful poems, written in a down-to-earth style with beautiful imagery and flights into metaphysics that I really enjoy going on while reading poetry. It's also a wonderful look at a truly poetic life, from the point of the person leading it, and this cannot be discounted. One may be bitter that one's own life if not as poetic as free as Gilbert's, but that's not his fault. In summary it strikes me a kind of classical modern poetry, if ...more
I'm not really this huge fan of poetry; I've probably liked one or two in my lifetime. But I picked this off a shelf in a bookstore I'd randomly passed by in the city on a judge-by-interesting-title basis.

I fell in love. Is it possible to do that with a book of poems? Not in love in a guarded, protective way about it, though—I had stained the pages with a highlighter—but in love in a security-blanket way. It opened me up to the exquisite world of poetry, and I fell in love with that, too—so badl
Henry Miller says that a good reader should have patience to find gems in a work, even if it is one good sentence. I didn't need much patience in Gilbert's collection. Not to say that Refusing Heaven is a perfect work. Many poems are repetitive in theme, some even using very similar metaphors. There are those that seem lofty like some of Robert Frost's work. There are some that I had no idea the purpose or exactly what they meant. The best are his serene poems which are composed in, what I belie ...more
One the best collections I've read in some time. Imagine a humble, wiser Hemingway turning into a recluse and taking up poetry. Gilbert's descriptive powers do remind me of Hemingway. Lot's of short sentences, but the poems never seem choppy. And unlike Hemingway, there always seems to be a transcendent aspect to these poems. But Gilbert never drifts off. He's rooted in the here and now, and he does love the ladies. I hope to expand on this later, but this is going to be a busy week & weeken ...more
I loved this collection. It has so much heart, and I mean that in the most complimentary, least sentimental way. Unlike so much of contemporary poetry that's more interested in dropping cultural references or showcasing verbal masturbation, Gilbert's writing is clean and insightful and break-your-heart gorgeous. Can't wait to read more of his work.
Jamie Grefe
My second time reading this collection and so much to think about. Nogami-san's death makes its way through many of these pieces as does Pittsburgh, Greece, loss, time, and women. There is a loneliness here, but it is a loneliness that soaks up life, despite the pain. Beautiful.
Writing a review of this is a little like writing an obituary for Batman. Choosing only a few things to share about such a versatile book is extremely difficult; there were great, lasting phrases that will stick with me forever (see poem: Failing and Flying); surprising, new images (Flat Hedgehogs); heartbreakingly lonely moments shared (Maybe She is Here); life-altering philosophies of work, failure, success, and more, conveyed in such few words (Failing and Flying, Metier, many others)...

Dom Zuccone
Jack Gilbert is one of the most contemplative poets still writing. I get the sense that no poem here is hurried to conclusion, or written to fill a space in a manuscript. Jack Gilbert's poetry seems to come from places of genuine experience and common need.
Cory Driver
the finest book of poetry i have ever read, or ever hope to read. he writes with a painful, full beauty that leaves you panting after struggling [in a very good way:] through every poem.
"We are given trees so that we know what God looks like. And rivers so we might understand Him. We are allowed women so we can get into bed with the Lord, however partial and momentary that is." -JG
I'm pretty sure I want him to live and write poems forever, even if they're about the same things over and over again.
Favorite lines
(view spoiler)
I don't read volumes of poetry too often--I read poems individually, sparingly. I enjoy poetry--but in small, frequent doses.

I had not heard of Jack Gilbert until a friend shared one of his poems at a gathering, and I loved it so much, I checked his "Refusing Heaven" out of the library. What a gem. The book's filled with delicious, challenging poems. I recommend a few before bed, or as a break in the day. He pushes the comfort line, often, but always leaves you with something to think about.
cras culture
I can see why as I recall once reading, someone called Gilbert a "poet's poet". A cliche and nonsensical term overall, but it makes sense here. His poems operate with an impressive tightness. Rarely more than a page long, but with enough long breathe to flesh out meaning. Classical references abound and are tempered with a raunchy or poetically quotidian reference here and there. The gorgeous raw emotion that Gilbert punches in there without being sappy are my favorite parts of his writing.
A measure of good poetry is that a few words can change the reader's perspective. A second yardstick is being memorable, indelible. And, it elevates craft to art when those things happen while someone is welding words in new and striking ways. Refusing Heaven is a winner on all three counts, and its subject matter makes it accessible to almost everyone. Jack Gilbert writes about ordinary bits of life in exotic locales. But, mostly, he writes about the landscape of the heart. He is a lover of wom ...more
I like Jack Gilbert, and I wish I'd bothered to read more of his work before he passed away. Because he brings to life images like this:

Once she said the world was an astonishing animal:
light was its spirit and noise was its mind.
That it was composed to feed on honor, but did not.
Another time she warned me about walking on the lawns
at night. Told me of heavy birds that flew after dark
croaking, "Feathers or lead, stone or fire?"
Mounting people who gave the wrong answer and riding
them like horses
Jack Gilbert is always mesmerizing. He cuts deep into the emotional truth of human interaction in simple phrasing cascading down in long columns of text. I admire the simplicity of his forms, and am not bothered by the his one subject: himself. Refusing Heaven is laced with his love life, travels, and friendships. Each poem stacking on the other to create a portrait of existence.
Danny Daley
This is a much lauded collection, but one with which I got bored fairly quickly. The first few poems were wonderful, communicating spiritual angst with the use of mythological and imaginative language, but by the mid point the collection ran dry for me. I'll revisit the first few poems in the future.
These deeply beautiful poems are filled with elegant verses wrought with real human emotion. Unfortunately, some of them were so impenetrable that I could not glean their meaning.
Cynthia Egbert
I know that there are many of you out there who do not love poetry that does not rhyme or have a true meter but if you are okay with free form poetry, then please check out Gilbert's work. He really does have a way with words that I appreciate. I recommend this highly.
I purchased the book because I fell in love with Failing and Flying. I think overall, the book was okay. Not crazy about most of the poems.

Most of the women he writes about seem pretty f*cked up, crying about first loves, crying for no reason, etc. I found myself getting annoyed that we were constantly portrayed as these uncommunicative emotional basket cases. Maybe most of his romantic experiences have been with nutty gals. Who knows....

There are a few good poems in this book, but Gilbert's at
Not up to snuff with monolithos, but Gilbert who is getting up there in years, delivers some memorable poems in his latest book. 'A Brief for the Defense' rings of his possibly best know 'the abnormal is not courage' and has that same ability to dissect a cultural phenomena, turn it on its head, and still not leave you feeling uncomfortable but rather newly comfortable with is view, always opposite of the accepted. That sentence may not have made sense. Overall, great collection from an under ap ...more
Keely Hyslop
Many poets throughout time have tried to capture in words what heartbreak really feels like. Few writers have succeeded as viscerally as Jack Gilbert. I could talk about his word choice, line breaks, imagery - all of which is impeccable - but what really impressed me is how well he captures the complexity of love after it is lost. The triumph of memory and the exaltation of having had something worth grieving over losing. Jack Gilbert is one of my favorite poets and this is one of my favorite co ...more
Many of the pieces in this collection struck me as end-of-life-old-man poetry, which, in general, doesn't hold particular appeal for me. ...Which isn't to diminish the several moments of pure amazingness to be found in some of these poems, like these lines from "Kunstkammer":

Again and again we put our
sweet ghosts on small paper boats and sailed
them back to their death, each moving slowly
into the dark, disappearing as our hearts
visited and savored, hurt and yearned.

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Goodreads Librari...: Not a Book: Need Super-Librarian Deletion 5 29 May 25, 2014 01:04PM  
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Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.'s neighborhood of East Liberty, he attended Peabody High School then worked as a door-to-door salesman, an exterminator, and a steelworker. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh, where he and his classmate Gerald Stern developed a serious interest in poetry and writing.

His work is distinguished by simple lyricism and straightforward clari
More about Jack Gilbert...
The Great Fires Collected Poems The Dance Most of All: Poems Monolithos: Poems, 1962 and 1982 Views of Jeopardy

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“Everyone forgets Icarus also flew.” 1776 likes
Failing and Flying

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It's the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.”
More quotes…