Arts & Events

AROUND AND ABOUT POETRY: Memorial Reading for Jack Gilbert Sunday Afternoon at the Hillside Club

By Ken Bullock
Friday March 08, 2013 - 05:15:00 PM

When the King of Siam disliked a courtier,/he gave him a beautiful white elephant./The miracle beast deserved such ritual/that to care for him properly meant ruin./Yet to care for him improperly was worse./It appears the gift could not be refused. ("In Dispraise of Poetry," opening poem, 'Views of Jeopardy') 

At a celebration last May 12 at Pegasus Books, poet Jack Gilbert, 87, looked on while his poet friends--including Linda Gregg, Larry Felson and Bill Mayer--read from his new 'Collected Poems' (Knopf). 

Six months later, on November 13, Gilbert, who had been suffering from Alzheimer's for years, died at a Berkeley care facility. 

This Sunday afternoon from 2-5, some of the same friends of the poet from the Pegasus reading will host a free memorial reading for Gilbert at the Hillside Club. 

From Pittsburgh, Gilbert lived in San Francisco on and off from the 1950s through the 80s, spending much time in Europe and later in Japan, then teaching in the Northeast. Associated with poets from the Berkeley and San Francisco Renaissance scenes of the late 40s through 50s, like Robert Duncan and Jack Spicer, and friendly with others who had arrived here such as Allen Ginsberg, Gilbert forged his own distinctive identity with his first book, 'Views of Jeopardy,' published in 1962 as the winner of the Yale Younger Poets award. 

Praised by older poets ranging from Rexroth to Auden, Roethke to Rukeyser, championed by editors Dudley Fitts and Gordon Lish, Gilbert became something of a sensation on the national reading circuit when poetry mattered at universities--he later recalled one college marquee in the Midwest displaying his name as "The Hottest Poet in America." But he characteristically slipped away from honors and publicity to live quietly in the Aegean, returning to The States to teach and exist in near-poverty, not publishing another book--'Monolithos'--for 20 years. Several further volumes as well as featured selections in Esquire magazine followed, until last year's 'Collected Books.' 

Our slow crop is used up within an hour. So I live/effortlessly by the ocean, where the sun bestows /and bestows and I return nothing./Go cross-grain through /the fire and call my style lust. But the night forces me./I get so quiet lying under the stars I can't regulate the sound of owls altering me. In that dark in front/of the house, I often think of an old man at Sadler's Wells./The only one left who had seen the famous dances./When they did them again, despite the bad notation,/he would watch patiently, saying, No, no, that's not the way/it was somehow. Until they got it right. But he died. ("Template," 'Monolithos') 

Hillside Club, 2287 Cedar (east of Shattuck between Spruce & Arch), 2-5 p. m. Sunday--free. To speak about Gilbert or read a poem of his at the memorial, contact Bill Mayer: 549-2444, --or Larry Felson: 684-8270,