Jack Gilbert

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Jack Gilbert
Born(1925-02-18)February 18, 1925
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedNovember 13, 2012(2012-11-13) (aged 87)
Berkeley, California, U.S.
OccupationPoet, writer
EducationUniversity of Pittsburgh (BA)
San Francisco State University (MA)

Jack Gilbert (February 18, 1925 – November 13, 2012) was an American poet. Gilbert was acquainted with Jack Spicer and Allen Ginsberg, both prominent figureheads of the Beat Movement, but is not considered a Beat Poet; he described himself as a "serious romantic."[1][2] Over his five-decade-long career, he published five full collections of poetry.[3][2]

Early life and education[edit]

Born and raised in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, neighborhood of East Liberty,[4] he attended Peabody High School. Gilbert then worked as a door-to-door salesman, an exterminator, and a steelworker.

He was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh and graduated in 1954. During these college years he and his classmate Gerald Stern developed a serious interest in poetry and writing.

Gilbert received his master's degree from San Francisco State University in 1963.[1]


After college, Gilbert went to Paris and worked briefly at the Herald Tribune before moving to Italy. Gilbert spent two years there before moving to New York and then to San Francisco, where his life as a poet began.

His work has been distinguished by simple lyricism and straightforward clarity of tone, as well as a resonating control over his emotions: “We look up at the stars and they are / not there. We see memory / of when they were, once upon a time. / And that too is more than enough.” His first book of poetry, Views of Jeopardy, (1962) won the Yale Younger Poets Prize and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize,[1] and Gilbert was quickly recognized.[3]

He then retreated from his earlier activity in the San Francisco poetry scene, where he had participated in Jack Spicer's Poetry as Magic workshop,[4] and, in 1964, moved to Europe. Living on a Guggenheim Fellowship,[2] he was invited to tour 15 countries as a lecturer on American Literature for the U.S. State Department. He then lived briefly in England, Denmark, and Greece before returning to San Francisco in 1967.[4]

His books of poetry were few and far between; however he continuously maintained his writing and contributed to The American Poetry Review, Genesis West, The Quarterly, Poetry, Ironwood, The Kenyon Review, and The New Yorker. Gilbert was the 1999-2000 Grace Hazard Conkling writer-in-residence at Smith College.[4]

Gilbert was also a visiting professor and writer-in-residence at the University of Tennessee in 2004. Author Elizabeth Gilbert, who discovered Jack Gilbert when she succeeded him in the same writing chair, declared, "He became the poet laureate of my life."[5]

On April 15, 2013, it was announced that Gilbert's Collected Poems was a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. The Pulitzer jury's citation read:

a half century of poems reflecting a creative author’s commitment to living fully and honestly and to producing straightforward work that illuminates everyday experience with startling clarity.[6]

Personal life[edit]

Much of Gilbert's work is about his relationships with women. While in Italy, he met Gianna Gelmetti, a romantic partner who appears frequently in his work. The relationship ended after a year. Gilbert was a close friend of the poet Linda Gregg, whom he met when she was nineteen and his student in San Francisco, and with whom he was in a relationship for six years. Of the poet, Gregg once said, "All Jack ever wanted to know was that he was awake—that the trees in bloom were almond trees—and to walk down the road to get breakfast. He never cared if he was poor or had to sleep on a park bench."[2][7]

He was also in a significant long-term relationship with the poet Laura Ulewicz during the late fifties and early sixties in San Francisco. Ulewicz was a great influence on his early work; in fact much of his characteristic style for which he later became known came directly from her, and his first book was dedicated to her.[8] Gilbert also was in a relationship with Michiko Nogami,[9] another former student and a Japanese language instructor 21 years his junior, about whom he wrote many of his poems. Nogami died of cancer at the age of 36, in 1982.[2] Gilbert died on November 13, 2012, in Berkeley, California.[1] He was 87.


Poetry collections[edit]

  • Views of Jeopardy Yale University Press, 1962
  • Monolithos Graywolf Press, 1984, ISBN 9780915308422
  • Kochan (1984), A limited edition chapbook of nine poems, two of which were later republished in The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992; seven of the poems have not been otherwise published, including "Nights and Four Thousand Mornings," the longest poem Gilbert has published
  • The Great Fires: Poems 1982-1992 Knopf, 1994
  • Refusing Heaven Knopf, 2005
  • Tough Heaven: Poems of Pittsburgh Pond Road Press, 2006
  • Transgressions: Selected Poems Bloodaxe, 2006
  • The Dance Most of All Knopf, 2010
  • Collected Poems Knopf, 2012


Gilbert wrote two erotic novels with Jean Maclean which were published by the short-lived Danish Olympia Press under the pseudonym Tor Kung:[13]

  • My Mother Taught Me (1964) From the book jacket: "This is the tale of Lars, a Swedish boy, raised in an all-male orphanage without ever seeing even pictures of women, adopted into a new household with enthusiastic siblings and an energetic foster-mother."
  • Forever Ecstasy (1968) From the book jacket: "An amazing story about schoolboys, led by Paul and the devious but cowardly Rick, who at the end of the school year find themselves holding a young geometry teacher... right where they want her."


  • 19 New American Poets of the Golden Gate (1984) Gilbert's essay "Real Nouns" appears, as do select poems.


  1. ^ a b c d Penner, John (November 14, 2012). "Jack Gilbert dies at 87; unconventional poet knew fame and obscurity". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 30, 2022. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Jack Gilbert". Poetry Foundation. Archived from the original on February 10, 2022. Retrieved March 24, 2022.
  3. ^ a b Haglund, David (November 13, 2012). "Jack Gilbert, American Poet, Dies at 87". Slate. Archived from the original on January 30, 2022. Retrieved November 14, 2012.
  4. ^ a b c d "About Jack Gilbert". Poets.org. Archived from the original on February 10, 2022. Retrieved March 24, 2022.
  5. ^ Fassler, Joe (November 6, 2013). "The 'Stubborn Gladness' of Elizabeth Gilbert's Favorite Poet". The Atlantic. Archived from the original on March 24, 2022. Retrieved February 4, 2017.
  6. ^ a b "2013 Pulitzer Prizes & Finalists". The Pulitzer Prizes. Archived from the original on March 21, 2022. Retrieved March 24, 2022.
  7. ^ O'Rourke, Meghan (May 9, 2005). "The Recluse". Slate. Archived from the original on April 18, 2021. Retrieved March 24, 2022.
  8. ^ Gilbert, Jack (1962). "Views of Jeopardy", viii.
  9. ^ Garner, Dwight (March 13, 2012). "'Collected Poems' by Jack Gilbert". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 28, 2021. Retrieved March 24, 2022.
  10. ^ "Jack Gilbert". John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Archived from the original on June 3, 2013.
  11. ^ "Jack Gilbert". Lannan Foundation. Archived from the original on May 8, 2016.
  12. ^ "The Pulitzer Prizes - Finalists". Columbia University. 2013. Archived from the original on December 9, 2021. Retrieved April 8, 2013.
  13. ^ Piepenbring, Dan (February 18, 2015). "My Mother Taught Me: A Poet's Misadventures in Erotica". The Paris Review. Archived from the original on August 25, 2020.

Further reading[edit]

  • Genesis West volume one, published in the fall of 1962, is a celebration of Jack Gilbert's poetry. This volume includes poems by Jack and an interview by Gordon Lish.
  • Allen Randolph, Jody. Interview with Jack Gilbert. Lannan Foundation: Readings and Conversations Series. VHS. Los Angeles: Lannan Foundation, 1997.

External links[edit]