Today, the windows sleep nestled upon the greyness of the raining skies.
In another one of my restless searches for meaning, I circled back to Jack Gilbert. Last weekend, I told someone that he saves my life when it needs saving. The day after that, I had a brief conversation with someone who owned volumes of poetry. I only briefly was able to ask him why, though he is as entrenched as I am in the corporate world, would he be moved by poetry. He answered, all the more reason for it. And I thought of the line “They should’ve sent a poet” in the movie Contact (which I have never seen) relating to the general idea that the things encountered during space exploration are best suited to poetic description… although discovered by scientists…
Two people on consecutive days decided that the cure for whatever ails me is fortune telling.
Here, again, the late and great Jack Gilbert breaks apart life and writing and love and what it means to be human.
CD: Jack, your poems have so much human presence and pressure in them. Do you achieve this by working on the poems or by living your life? Or both?
JG: I don’t write poems as a way of writing a poem. I think I’m more prone to writing a poem on something I think I see or know or understand that is new. It’s like what I’ve I said about having an illicit relationship. It’s not a question of cheating on somebody or wanting to get laid, or seeking physical pleasure. But for whatever reason there is this illicit relationship. If you’ve ever experienced that, caring about a man or woman in an illicit way, there’s an emotional quality in that apartment that doesn’t exist any other place in the world. I’m not saying it’s good or bad. That sadness, that knowledge that this can’t last, that you’re hurting someone too much, the poem tries to capture this, this great tenderness. Maybe I’m playing with somebody else’s baby so she can do the cooking. There’s an intimacy in that illegitimacy that I think is unique, if the people are serious with each other. I want to confront death in my poetry. Like in the lines I read last night from my poem “A Brief for the Defense.” “Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies / aren’t starving someplace, they are starving / someplace else. With flies in their nostrils. / But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.” We must not let misery take away our happiness. It’s a crazy thing to say because life can be horrifying. We live in a world that has death in it, and injustice and all these things. But it’s important to go on being capable of happiness or delight in the world, not to ignore these other things, but to recognize that we have to build our poems within a bad terrain. It’s just how life is.
CD: Why did grow so wary of your talent for reading so well?
JG: I would like to think I was really smart at seeing my weaknesses.
CD: Which were?
JG: My pride and my strength.
CD: Why do feel your pride and strength were also your weaknesses?
JG: I came to see what performance does to someone. It rots you. You become so vain. This is why I refuse to give readings. Because I am weak, it’s hard to resist the power. You’re like an actor who can capture the audience with your words, your style, your appearance.
CD: Then where does your real power come from?
JG: I don’t trust myself. I love the effect so much. It’s like if you have the power to make women fall in love with you. I don’t want to become that person, that performer, that figure who can intoxicate his audience. If I wanted to I could make a lot of money. But then I wouldn’t want to give it up.
CD: What is the power in you to resist the power?
JG: I would like to think it’s the strength of real pride.
CD: How do you distinguish real pride from false pride?
JG: Real pride gives up, false pride keeps performing.
CD: I remember you once telling me when you lived with my wife and me in Iowa for a few months that many poets of your reputation and prestige enjoy flying on planes and going places, but that you’re content just to stare out the window of the Greyhound bus.
JG: Yes. I like my memories of being hungry and lost. I relish all those things. The experience of being myself. To be privileged to have been there, in my life.
CD: Like a guest of yourself?
JG: Not a guest, but to have had it.
His poem, “Divorce”
Woke up suddenly thinking I heard crying.
Rushed through the dark house.
Stopped, remembering. Stood looking
out at bright moonlight on concrete.
I think about how the things that drive us crazy at the present moment can be what we regret or reflect on most as time separates us from that moment… how this is the eternal human condition, remorse and regret and the ability for reflection rather than gratitude for all we have learned and moving forward always… that we miss things from the past for the sheer vivacity of feeling, because it reminded us we were human… that it takes the battles to remind us of the value of peace… to remind us even what peace is.