Jack Gilbert, Great American Poet, Dies at 87

Slate's Culture Blog
Nov. 13 2012 2:32 PM

Jack Gilbert, American Poet, Dies at 87

Jack Gilbert


Fifty years after his first book appeared—Views of Jeopardy, which won the prestigious Yale Younger Poets Prize—and just months after the publication of his Collected Poems, the Pittsburgh-born poet Jack Gilbert has died, at age 87. “A city of brick and tired wood,” he called his native city. “Primitive Pittsburgh.” Many of his poems have a straightforward lyricism that grabs you right away. According to a piece about the poet that was published just yesterday in the Los Angeles Times, “At Gilbert's readings, audience members were known to burst into tears.”

Reviewing the Collected Poems in the New York Times earlier this year, Dwight Garner called it “a revelation,” and “among the two or three most important books of poetry that will be published this year.” Garner noted that Gilbert “deploys the word ‘nipples’ ” more often than any “other major American poet,” but that he also seeks the ineffable—“a beast bent on grace,” Garner concluded, borrowing a phrase of Gilbert’s own. “Imagine how impossible it would be / to live if some people were / alone and afraid all their lives,” Gilbert wrote, in the 1982 poem “Games,” which Garner quoted.

In a Paris Review interview from 2005, Sarah Fay asked Gilbert, “Did you ever think you would live this long?” “I once dreamed that I’d live to be sixty,” Gilbert answered. “In those days that was how old you could live to be. But many of my ancestors lived to a hundred. I have this mechanism, this body, which has been so kind to me.”


He died on Sunday in Berkeley.

David Haglund is a senior editor at Slate. He runs Brow Beat, Slate's culture blog.



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

What Charles Barkley Gets Wrong About Corporal Punishment and Black Culture

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows

Why Do Some People See the Virgin Mary in Grilled Cheese?

The science that explains the human need to find meaning in coincidences.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

Is It Worth Paying Full Price for the iPhone 6 to Keep Your Unlimited Data Plan? We Crunch the Numbers.

What to Do if You Literally Get a Bug in Your Ear

  News & Politics
Sept. 16 2014 7:03 PM Kansas Secretary of State Loses Battle to Protect Senator From Tough Race
Sept. 16 2014 4:16 PM The iPhone 6 Marks a Fresh Chance for Wireless Carriers to Kill Your Unlimited Data
The Eye
Sept. 16 2014 12:20 PM These Outdoor Cat Shelters Have More Style Than the Average Home
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 15 2014 3:31 PM My Year As an Abortion Doula
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus Video
Sept. 16 2014 2:06 PM A Farewell From Emily Bazelon The former senior editor talks about her very first Slate pitch and says goodbye to the magazine.
Brow Beat
Sept. 16 2014 8:43 PM This 17-Minute Tribute to David Fincher Is the Perfect Preparation for Gone Girl
Future Tense
Sept. 16 2014 6:40 PM This iPhone 6 Feature Will Change Weather Forecasting
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 16 2014 11:46 PM The Scariest Campfire Story More horrifying than bears, snakes, or hook-handed killers.
Sports Nut
Sept. 15 2014 9:05 PM Giving Up on Goodell How the NFL lost the trust of its most loyal reporters.