Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Jack Gilbert, _Collected Poems_ (2)

HAVING ENJOYED MY tour through the collected Gilbert, I started wondering how active an influence he is in contemporary American poetry. He never seemed to be making any effort to influence; after a splashy arrival as a Yale Younger Poet and (as Carla Blumenkranz has reminded us) one of Gordon Lish's protégées, he tended to lie low. One gets the feeling that poets of succeeding generations read him, though. At least, his name comes up when I talk to under-40s--not as often as, say, Jack Spicer's, but more often than, say, Hayden Carruth's.

But I wouldn't say I hear Gilbert in the poetry of the under-40s, the way one can often hear Tate or Ashbery.

Still...is there a way to be an inaudible, invisible influence? There are great poets who make terrible influences--Yeats, Eliot, Lowell, Berryman, Dickinson, Hopkins--because their voices are so distinctive that one can't sound like them without sounding too like them, I think, without seeming to be too deeply within their shadow.

There are other poets--I am going to go with Elizabeth Bishop as prime example here, but I think George Herbert as well, George Oppen...maybe even Pound, odd as that sounds--from whom one can learn a great deal about poetic energy, whose tactics are acquirable, whose example can be profitably absorbed without overwhelming the influenced poet's voice.

I think Gilbert might be one of those.  He does, as David Orr mentioned in his view of this book, have his favorite stage properties, the sea, the moon, light, but these are hardly exclusive trademarks; likewise, his tendency to make pronouncements is widely enough shared that dropping in a few "We..." statements wouldn't strike anyone as borrowing from Gilbert.

A lot of what he typically does well are just good moves--the surprising turn that ends up making perfect sense, the quick hop from colloquial looseness to terminological precision, the balance of honesty and tact. You could learn a lot from Gilbert without ever too sharply resembling him.  I hope poets keep reading him.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Damn right. We'd become pure energy if we all read Jack.