Jack Gilbert’s Great Fire

Matthew Dickman

Jack Gilbert is dead and outside it’s raining, the street in front of my apartment is empty of cars, the sky keeps moving around, gray and white like a sheet you might place over a body.

For me, Gilbert was one of the most important poets I have ever read. He was also one of the first poets I read who broke my heart and built up my heart at the same time. He was a poet who seemed to easily engage with his inner-life, was not shy about love or grief:

Jack Gilbert: 1925-2012 (Photo by Robert Toby)

“Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If Babies/ are not starving someplace, they are starving somewhere else./ With flies in their nostrils”


“Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts/ of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred/ pitchers of honey.”

Gilbert died on Tuesday, November 13th in Berkeley, California. The author of six books including a new and collected, he’s a poet not to be forgotten. If you are reading this right now you should stop, get online, and order a copy of The Great Fires. You should own Gilbert’s Collected Poems. You should carry his Refusing Heaven around for a month straight.

Gilbert was a poet of meditative and spiritual strength, a poet that made sense of the complicated world for the rest of us who could not. He is a poet to share with your loved ones and your enemies.

In his poem, Waking at Night, Gilbert wrote:

“I lie in the dark/ wondering if this quiet in me now/ is a beginning or an end”

Instead of an end let’s all share Gilbert’s work with others, let’s turn his new quiet into a radiant beginning!