Poetry Friday – Jack Gilbert

Today is Poetry Friday and Linda is hosting. She shares a whole list of clunkers in her annual clunker exchange. 

Jack Gilbert once said, “I’m not a professional of poetry, I’m a farmer of poetry.” I liked that. He could have been a popular professional poet, but he eschewed the limelight. Read more about his life here.

I am reading his collected poems right now, and I especially like his poems about love and loss. The ones about his wife, Michiko, who died in her thirties, are especially poignant.


I never thought Michiko would come back
after she died. But if she did, I knew
it would be as a lady in a long white dress.
It is strange that she has returned
as somebody’s dalmatian.

read the rest here

Another thing I like about Gilbert’s poetry is his well-developed sense of place when writing of a European city, a Greek island or the steel city of his youth, Pittsburgh. Last month, I wrote about Gilbert and Pittsburgh in this prompt by Wendy Everard called Inspirational Places.

My family in Pittsburgh, 2007

Pittsburgh’s in Jack Gilbert
by Denise Krebs

As we rode Duquesne Incline,
he already was old, living in Berkeley. Steel City
watches over the growing of knowing,
for heirlooms of progeny. But this
morning, the three rivers backdrop
for thunderstorms, Andy Warhol and
the bridges of a city bring light to our
dark, pathways of connections.
To this city we came just to
give our kids a taste of Primati Bros.
(way too much cole slaw for my taste),
and the Pirates, and Randyland, a
show of hue saturation and celebration.
His hometown was the
landfall of his view from Paris,
the eye of his childhood, always
new. As each of us have our own past, in city or
country, we are products of our nurturing.
His lifetime weaving carried the thread of his
native city, coloring the world, his poetry with
land-roots of comfort and claiming.

This golden shovel striking line is “As he watches for morning, for the dark to give way and show his landfall, the new country, his native land.” By Jack Gilbert in “Looking at Pittsburgh from Paris”.

Here are a few of the many lines he wrote that include Pittsburgh:

  • Even Pittsburgh will vanish, leaving a greed tough as winter. (“They Will Put My Body into the Ground”)
  • It was Pittsburgh that lasted. The iron and fog and sooty brick houses. (“The Spirit and the Soul”)
  • Whisper Pittsburgh with my mouth against the tiny ear and throw him higher. Pittsburgh and happiness high up. (“Trying to Have Something Left Over”)
  • So that all his life her son would feel gladness unaccountably when anyone spoke of the ruined city of steel in America. Each time almost remembering something maybe important that got lost. (“Trying to Have Something Left Over”)
  • The Pittsburgh lamps inside of him make it look maybe not good enough (“Carrying Torches at Noon”)
  • Smell of Pittsburgh after rain. Smell of winter steel and grease… (“Threshing the Fire”)
  • Is it because Pittsburgh is still tangled in him that he has the picture on his wall of God’s head torn about by jungle roots? (“A Taste for Grit and Whatever”)

See what I mean?

My May poems about my siblings continue here.







11 thoughts on “Poetry Friday – Jack Gilbert

  1. Truly lovely poem and inspirational. I had never heard of Jack Gilbert. Thanks for introducing him to us!

  2. As you might see in my post today, the places never leave us, do they, as they have not left Jack Gilbert! I love “That makes her happy the way it always did.”, love when a poet writes of what some may find miraculous, and cements it with their truth. Your weaving in and out from that one line made me read it again, connecting to the ending especially, Denise, “his poetry with/land-roots of comfort and claiming.” Thank you!

  3. A “farmer of poetry” — growing poems from experience, imagination, revision. I like ending your poem with “claiming.” Being claimed by a place feels appropriately powerful.

  4. I love how Liz Gilbert writes about Jack Gilbert in the beginning of her book, ‘Big Magic.’ I listened to her read that book and I listen to it again and again, as it’s a great commentary on creativity. That’s a wonderful photo of you and your siblings.

  5. My husband was born in and grew up in Pittsburgh. I remember riding the Duquesne Incline on my first visit after we married. That same trip – in late December – I packed strappy sandals (I’m from California) to wear to church on the Sunday of our visit. It snowed that day. And I looked pretty silly. I imagine Pittsburgh had a good giggle over it.

  6. Your post leading off with “Alone” after just coming off of Patricia’s post — I am in tears! What a tragic story behind “Alone.” It is just heartbreaking. I had to regroup. I loved your poem — it is so true that our hometown always calls to us!

  7. I’m not familiar with Jack Gilbert. I’ll look out for more of his poetry!

  8. Thank you for sharing the Jack Gilbert quote. Somebody told me about him and I can’t remember.
    Your golden shovel reminds me of the poems I am working on about place. There is such richness in focusing on place and family.

  9. A new-to-me poet – thank you! I’m a PA girl but haven’t spent much time in Pittsburgh. Still, I could connect with your poem very well.

  10. Thanks for the introduction to Jack Gilbert and dare I say, Pittsburg. (Ahem, there is so much of the US I need I explore.) Your poem is a great jumping off point for PA, Denise! 🙂

  11. Denise, I loved your golden shovel and the way it strongly evokes a sense of place.
    And your poems about your siblings brought me laughter and tears this morning. What a beautiful project!

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