Collected Poems

Jack Gilbert, Author
Jack Gilbert. Knopf, $35 (432p) ISBN 978-0-307-26968-3
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Gilbert has long held legendary status among poetry readers for his wise, hard-won poems about the joys and complexities of romantic love, about grief and about the power of experience deeply felt. His 1994 collection The Great Fires (which is included here in its entirety) is, for many, practically a sacred text. The publication of Gilbert’s complete body of work to date is doubtless a literary event. From his Yale Younger Poet’s Prize–winning debut, Gilbert’s poems have felt wise beyond their years and yet youthful, full of contradictions that give them life: “Joy has been a habit,” he writes in one early poem, which concludes, “Now/ suddenly/ this rain.” Here are also many and many kinds of poems about travel or life in far-flung places, particularly Greece. Plentiful, too, are poems of marriage—its difficulties (“Eight years/ and her love for me quieted away”), its ecstasies, and its ending: divorce is memorably figured as “looking/ out at the bright moonlight on concrete.” Gilbert is perhaps best known, however, for the grief-stricken poems that chart the dying of and then mourning over his wife, Michiko, of whom he writes, “The arches of her feet are like voices/ of children calling in the grove of lemon trees,/ where my heart is as helpless as crushed birds.” All poetry lovers will want this book. (Mar.)
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