When Jack Gilbert won the Yale Younger Poets prize in 1962 for Views of Jeopardy, he attained a kind of allure usually foreign to poets. His photo was featured in Esquire, Vogue, and Glamour, and his book was often stolen from the library. A Guggenheim Fellowship enabled him to go to Europe; he spent much of the ensuing two decades living modestly abroad. Although the literary world embraced him early in his career, he was something of a self-imposed exile: flunking out of high school; congregating with Allen Ginsberg and Jack Spicer in San Francisco but never really writing like a Beat poet; living in Europe and writing American poetry inspired by Pound and Eliot.
A self-described “serious romantic,” Gilbert had a relationship with poet Linda Gregg, and was later married to sculptor Michiko Nogami, who died after 11 years of marriage. Many of his poems are about these relationships and losses. Gilbert’s fourth book, Refusing Heaven (2005), contains, as poet Dan Albergotti describes, “poems about love, loss, and grief that defy all expectations of sentimentality. All of them are part of the larger poem, the poem that is the life of the poet, perhaps the most profound and moving piece of work to come out of American literature in generations.”
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?