Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

Sunday Read: Award-winning American Poet Jack Gilbert Passes Away at the Age of 87

Award-winning American poet Jack Gilbert passed away on Tuesday 13 November at the age of 87 at a nursing home in Berkeley, California.

Collected PoemsThe Dance Most of AllTransgressionsTough Heaven

Refusing HeavenMonolithos Poems, 1962 and 1982The Great FiresViews of Jeopardy

The day before Gilbert died the Los Angeles Times published a profile on him by John Penner. Gilbert’s Collected Poems: Jack Gilbert was released earlier this year and Penner wrote about how this book serves to “remind us of Gilbert’s high place in modern American poetry”. He also described a reading held at Gilbert’s nursing home, the poet has Alzheimer’s disease but recognised the poem being read as one of his own.

BERKELEY — In a spacious, humane skilled-nursing home, a man sits with his elderly neighbors arrayed in their wheelchairs as Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald sing. Several guests arrive to see the man, and after the last note of “Cheek to Cheek,” one of them takes up a microphone and reads a poem.

The reader, startled by a resident’s pained moans of distress, stumbles over a word or two of “Looking at Pittsburgh From Paris.” He finishes, and the man brightens in his chair and points at his heart, mouthing to a visitor holding his arm, “Me?”

The Los Angeles Times then ran an obituary by Penner that detailed Gilbert’s career. Gilbert won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1962 for Views of Jeopardy, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for the same collection. In 2005 he was awarded a National Book Critics Circle Award for Refusing Heaven.

The poet Jack Gilbert, who had been battling dementia for many years, died Tuesday at a nursing home in Berkeley. He was 87.

Gilbert — who was featured in Monday’s L.A. Times — had been in frail condition for several years before he developed pneumonia over the last couple of days, and he succumbed early this morning, said Bill Mayer, a poet and longtime friend. Mayer was among a group who kept a vigil at Gilbert’s side during his final hours. Fellow Bay Area poets Larry Felson and Steven Rood were among the group, as was Louise Gregg, the sister of the poet Linda Gregg, who was closest to Gilbert and knew him almost from the beginning of his 50-year writing career. Linda Gregg, who lives in New York, was unable to fly to the Bay Area before Gilbert’s death.

The New York Times ran a piece by Bruce Weber that described Gilbert’s reluctance to be in the public eye and spoke about the impact that his poetry had on people.

Jack Gilbert, a poet whose frank, forthright, emotionally fraught works observed the grand universal realities of love and death from a perspective off the literary grid, died on Tuesday in Berkeley, Calif. He was 87.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said Henry Lyman, a friend who had rented a room to Mr. Gilbert for many years in his house in Northampton, Mass. Mr. Gilbert’s publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said he had Alzheimer’s disease.

Granta Magazine republished two poems taken from The Dance Most of All, “Meanwhile” and “The New Bride Almost Visible in Latin”, in dedication to his memory:


It waits. While I am walking through the pine trees
along the river, it is waiting. It has waited a long time.
In southern France, in Belgium, and even Alabama.
Now it waits in New England while I say grace over
almost everything: for a possum dead on someone’s lawn,
the single light on a levee while Northampton sleeps,
and because the lanes between houses in Greek hamlets
are exactly the width of a donkey loaded on each side
with barley. Loneliness is the mother’s milk of America.

Book details


Please register or log in to comment