In Collected Poems, Jack Gilbert showcases a breathtaking poetry collection of more than half a century’s work. Gilbert, a Pulitzer Prize finalist for poetry, has shown the world age is never a deterrent — presenting his best book of poetry in his lifetime, about his lifetime.
In this collection of poetry, Gilbert has specially selected poems from each of his past collections as well as more recent pieces. Each poem encompasses a form that greatly varies from the next, demonstrating that Gilbert does not adhere to his poetry being defined by a precise structure. Instead, his creation of poetry stems from free verse colliding with imagery
Throughout the book, Gilbert manages to offer great clarity and candidness, making his ability to come across to readers nearly seamless.
For example, in the poem “Myself Considered As The Monster In The Foreground,” Gilbert writes: “Safe and helpless, the monster must fashion his own blessing or doom. He goes down as it is in the nature to go down but goes down with a difference, down to the mountain.” The poem, like many others throughout the collection, seems to touch upon the theme of darkness vs. light. In this case, the idea that even a monster is capable of mercy in seeking salvation — “still it is a beast bent on grace.”
Other notable themes include classical mythology, music, sex and, more importantly, humanity’s struggle with mortality. The connection of these themes is appropriately compiled within the book, becoming a testament of Gilbert’s experience as a poet.
The collection ultimately becomes a timeline of Gilbert’s life, taking readers through highs and lows to experimental phases of his writing.
There are many standout poems throughout the book, but some personal favorites include: “House On The California Mountain”, “Fidelity” and “Midnight Is Made Of Bricks.” While an extensive compilation, readers should not find it too difficult to finish the work in a matter of days, if not hours. The poetry has a sense of rhythm and pull that becomes addictive.
The vastness of the work represents Gilbert’s achievement of not only withstanding decades of literary criticism, but also time in general. More than anything, this momentous volume demonstrates Gilbert’s continued ability to shine while still maintaining a sense of humbleness throughout.
Overall, Gilbert’s Collected Poems is an investment that will continue to have merit in the years to come. While many books come and go throughout your life, this anthology will remain an essential work.
[Published 18 April 2012, The Weekender]