Robb Todd's Reviews > Collected Poems

Collected Poems by Jack Gilbert
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's review
Nov 20, 2012

bookshelves: 2012, poetry, top-shelf
Read from July 26 to November 20, 2012

An powerful collection. It's amazing to feel that you're holding a man's entire life in your hands, but that is what you're doing when you read this collection. A true artist. From his recent obituary in the New York Times:

“I enjoyed those six months of being famous,” he recalled in the Paris Review interview. “Fame is a lot of fun, but it’s not interesting. I loved being noticed and praised, even the banquets. But they didn’t have anything that I wanted. After about six months, I found it boring. There were so many things to do, to live. I didn’t want to be praised all the time — I liked the idea, but I didn’t invest much in it.”

I debated on whether to read the unpublished poems but decided to. It was what I suspected why I hesitated but I'm surprised that I'm still glad I read them. It would have felt incomplete not to. It makes him more human.

Gilbert dug beyond the seeds.

+ + +

Views of Jeopardy (1962)

Don Giovanni On His Way to Hell (II)” is a masterpiece. As good as anything ever written. (You have to hate it now, right? I built it up to much.)

Monolithos (1982)

"Right, he thought, remembering about love. Not wanting the responsibility."

Hard to beat that. Gilbert is brilliant and he does beat that and I think I could write nearly the same review for all his books. One of the greatest American poets.

The Great Fires (1994)

I wish I could be more poetic, but this is just more brilliance from Gilbert. It's amazing that he can continue to write so forcefully about the same topics but still keep the lines fresh.

Refusing Heaven (2005)

The only of the books I read before picking up the Collected Poems. Even better the second time. He has a handful of objects that he has spent a lifetime dissecting -- and dissecting again. This isn't repetition, digging deeper and going longer. Reading the Collected Poems also allows you to see the arc of his work and how his perspective changes over time.

The Dance Most of All (2009)

This book, his last, is not like like his other books. He takes more time with the lines and goes longer -- but not always to great effect. Sometimes the looseness of the line is welcomed, but it's often as if he did not have the strength to make them harder as he did with everything he wrote prior. A deep breath is nice and deserved but these poems aren't as good as he earlier offerings. Maybe I will change my mind when I'm 80.

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