Post Road Magazine #18

Jack Gilbert's THE GREAT FIRES

Dan Albergotti

Among the reasons I would recommend Jack Gilbert's The Great Fires

(Knopf, 1994) are that it is a book full of poems as fine, compressed, gorgeous, hard, brilliant, and precious as diamonds worked by the most skilled gemcutter,

that when someone rejects a life of relative material comfort and public approbation in order to find real poems in the wilderness far removed from our culture's prosaic din, we should read with great care what he brings back to us,

that we all should insist while there is still time ("Tear It Down"),

that each time I return to this book, the poems seem completely new, that each time I return to this book, the poems seem very old, that it does for me in reading what Joy Division's Closer does for me in listening, that we are all like casualties helping each other / as we wait for the end ("Trying to Have Something Left Over"),

that there may have been a better book of poems published in the last half century, but I haven't read or heard of it,

that there may not have been a better book of poems published since

Keats wrote "beauty is truth, truth beauty,"

that it stirs my hyperbolic urges,

that it does for me in reading what Sam Mendes and Alan Ball's

American Beauty does for me in viewing,

that the birds sing sometimes without purpose ("Adulterated"), that life is too short not to be audacious,

that it is the best part of the greatest poem written by an American, that poem being the life of Jack Gilbert, that right now the waves are rolling ashore on a rocky Greek island, that Gilbert is, as James Dickey said, "a necessary poet, who teaches us

not only how to live but to die creatively, and with all meaning,"

that in our vale of Soul-making, this book is a manual,

that we all need to have something that can teach [us] mortality, frighten

[us] / into the present ("I Imagine the Gods"),

that when my friend Melanie Carter read "A Stubborn Ode" aloud to me in 1996 and clutched the book to her chest with a heavy sigh as she uttered its final word ("nevertheless"), I had no idea what she was so carried away with, yet today I cannot reach that final word without feeling equally moved despite the fact that I must have read the poem hundreds of times by now,

that some things you just can't explain, but you must try to anyway,

that my urge to share this book with other people must be similar to the urge the religious feel to share their own stories of salvation,

that if the aliens were to abduct me and ask me what it is to be human, I

would point them hopelessly toward this book,

that I too want to go on without ever putting the box down ("Michiko Dead"),

that some gifts cannot be refused.


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