Monthly Archives: February 2012




Well, that was a 2-sided answer I gave about lack of ‘style-points’ – I also said there’s no kvetching about 29-1, and I have to stick w/ that (“They look bad to me” is just unfair on the face of it <Marty being Marty>…let those #’s sink in… any Big-Time Program in any one of the half-dozen Big Time Conferences would be envious…29-1 demands props & is impressive from any angle)….as to the deficencies in this team, lissen-up ’cause I’m speaking ex-cathedra here:

#1 @ the top of the list is that this team has near-zero half-court game. They’re primarily, almost exclusively, a defensively-minded team that scores in transition – look at any box score & you’ll see what this team is all about: 1st in steals & def. fg % & 2nd in blocked shots…that tells you something right there…you’ll see that the deciding stat in almost every game has been ‘Points Off Turnovers’ (this is fact & cannot be argued)….every good analyst, professional or amateur, will acknowledge that when they force turnovers & run in transition they’re nearly unbeatable by anyone anywhere…on the other hand is that near-zero set-offense I mentioned – the last really-good SU team, in 2010, had a great half-court game w/ Rautins handling the ball & dishing to a very rugged front-court that included Arinze Onuaku & Rick Jackson, and Wes Johnson who could score from anywhere, create his own shot or drive @ will & get fouled (& hit the FT’s!)…..this team runs, or struggles. One sure-fire way to keep them from running is to pass the ball around the perimeter for most of the shot clock before trying to score…teams in the BE are doing that, and it’s reflected in the low final scores….bottom-line come tournament-time is: RUN OR BE DONE.

#2 on the list of deficiencies is the lack of a dependable 3-pt shooter (Wes could shoot it, but Rautins had the dagger!)….the 2  best shooters, Trische & Southerland, are, unfortunately, both head-cases…Southerland has perfect form & deep range, but the game is still too fast for him, I think…and if Trisch missses that 1st one he buries his chin (& if he makes a dumb mistake or a bad pass he’ll sulk like Achilles in his tent <he needs to take a lesson from Scoop, who never lets one of his monumental train wrecks throw him off-stride>)…..they’re pretty good knocking down 3’s in transition, but not off the half-court sets, which really just subsumes this problem under #1 – half-court woes.

This team can only “impose it’s will” through it’s zone defense, and the scoring opportunities it creates via turnovers…..RUN OR BE DONE will be my tournament mantra……and it’s here, with the way these guys play that zone, where I lay our tournament chances. You can watch film & study the x’s & o’s, but unless you’ve played against it before (see Pitino), you have no idea how disruptive it can be (witness the many horrorcore ‘runs’ they’ve put on teams this year – 26-0, 19-0, 17-0 etc.)….what makes this effective zone a GREAT one this year is Dion’s miraculous decision to buy into it (strong, smart & lightning-quick) and the equally miraculous play of the Fabulous Fabrizio Melo!…..Fab is still not a great rebounder or scorer (tho’ he WILL be a big-time scorer someday), but he’s the key component of the zone (in the ONLY loss of the season, @ ND, when he was sitting out the suspension, their big Irish lug, Cooney or Cooley, was unstoppable underneath & won the game for them)….Fab don’t/won’t allow that (did you see him do the Mutumbo finger-wag @ UConn’s Drummond after blocking his shot?!)…he doesn’t foul, he takes charges, he blocks & disrupts shots & he runs the floor like a fucking gazelle….how could anyone who saw him ‘play’ last year possibly imagine this year’s dominance?!….as long as they play that 2-3 w/ movement, anticipation & quickness, I honestly believe they can & would & will beat any team in the country, including the very talented, and very young, Kentucky Wildcats.

I’ve always admired the rugged style of the Big 12, but I do believe the ‘Cuse would run any of them outta the building!.


To a Green Thought

To a Green Thought

Garth Greenwell on Poetry
An Annual Column

Love’s Alembic: On Jack Gilbert

Few contemporary poets have a story as compelling as Jack Gilbert’s.The details of that story are frequently rehearsed: born to a hardscrabble life in Pittsburgh, he flunked out of high school and made a living at odd and demanding jobs (exterminator, door-to-door salesman, steel mill worker) before being admitted, due to a clerical error, to the University of Pittsburgh, where he began writing poetry. After years in France and Italy he lived in San Francisco, where he studied with Jack Spicer and famously argued prosody with Allen Ginsberg. His poetic debut, Views of Jeopardy, won the 1962 Yale Younger Poets Prize and was greeted with extraordinary welcome. For a year and a half, as he says, he enjoyed as generous a measure of fame as an American poet is likely to be afforded. The romance of Jack Gilbert, the myth that hangs so heavily about him, sometimes obscuring the poems, starts here. The toast of the literary world, Gilbert absconded to Europe, passing long periods in solitude, living in poverty and poetic silence. He waited twenty years to publish his second book, Monolithos (Knopf, 1982), doing so only at the vehement urging of editor Gordon Lish. Gilbert has frequently asserted his rejection of the standard literary career: “I’m not a professional of poetry,” he said in an NPR interview marking the publication of his fourth book, Refusing Heaven (Knopf, 2005), “I’m a farmer of poetry.” Instead, he has insisted that, in the Yeatsian dilemma between the art or the life, his allegiance lies with the latter: “Not wanting to lose it all for poetry. / Wanting to live the living.”

The story of this stripped-down life exerts an immense appeal, especially in a poetic culture increasingly uneasy about its confinement to the Academy. The trajectory of Gilbert’s career gratifies a longing for our vision of an earlier, more authentic model of the artist as Romantic solitary, adversary of a dominant culture, witness to a truer system of values than that which we commonly share. Many of Gilbert’s admirers speak of him in terms usually reserved for the mystic’s inward heroism: “He has given up convenience and ease to record the depth of a human life for the good of us all,” writes the poet Dan Albergotti; Meghan O’Rourke, in Slate, claims that in their “radical cultivation of solitude…Gilbert’s poems capture what it might be to live out a spiritual quest for authenticity.” (This spiritual quest, it must be said, is a markedly sensual one: Gilbert is a ladies’ man as well as a monk, seeking out with striking literalness what Auden calls “the hermit’s carnal ecstasy.”) Gilbert’s poems cultivate such claims; in his aesthetic as in his life, Gilbert repeatedly expresses a claim for the stripped-down, the bare, the essential, as revelatory of the truth of being. In a century of poetic careers extravagant in their conversions (think of Robert Lowell, Allen Ginsberg, Adrienne Rich), Gilbert’s work is notably steadfast. Already in his first book—despite a number of poems influenced by the style of the time, aesthetic false steps that appear nowhere else in his published work—the mature style is clear; there is no “breakthrough” volume, no radical shift to a new shape for the poems. Gilbert repeatedly rejects his age’s infatuation with formal ingenuity, what he dismisses as “newness strutting around as if it were significant. / Irony, neatness and rhyme pretending to be poetry” (“Measuring the Tyger”).

Gilbert insists instead on privileging content over manner, and the new poems collected in his most recent volume, The Dance Most of All (Knopf, 2009), show that content, like style, has remained remarkably constant over the nearly five decades of his career. Indeed, as themes, images, even phrases echo between volumes, it seems less meaningful to discuss individual collections than to recognize the entirety of the career as a single project. New details and landscapes, new emphases, new biographical circumstances enter, but the concerns remain the same. His apparently discrete themes (eros, memory, transience, death) are elements of a single inquiry, a single—the chivalric word seems the right one—quest. If Gilbert seems often to eschew much of the elaborate manner of the Romantics, he is joined to them—and especially to Wordsworth—by a kind of Platonism, a sense that the appearances of the world are, however cherishable, a ruse; that there is a richer sweetness to be had in the hidden essences of things. Even though a certain late moderation has emerged in his most recent poems, Gilbert is remarkable for the ferocity of his search for those essences, his ruthless vagrancy in seeking—in poverty, in extreme landscapes, in difficult love—-experience “flayed bare.”


The attitude prompting such vagrancy is clear even in Gilbert’s earliest poems, poems that rail against the poetry cultures of San Francisco and New York, where he wrote his earliest published poems. Throughout his career, Gilbert evokes literary alter egos, figures that embody in fairly transparent ways aspects of his own biography or psychology. In Views of Jeopardy, Gilbert’s most frequent stand-in is Orpheus, a choice expressive of a certain confidence of vocation; but Gilbert’s Orpheus finds himself in a different sort of Hell from that of his classical counterpart:

From the beginning,
it had gone badly.
From the beginning.
From the first laughter.
It was Hell. Not a fable
of mechanical pain,
but the important made trivial.

In this Hades, Orpheus’ song is met not with the stunned silence of Cerberus or the tears of Persephone, but with an audience safe behind what Gilbert elsewhere calls “the Chinese Wall / Of laughter.” The problem, as Gilbert presents it here, is an impasse between differing sets of values; what hope is there for the poet in a culture that mistakes “the important” for “the trivial”? “You should turn yourself upside down/ So your ass would stick out,” his peers advise the hapless suitor of “Malvolio in San Francisco”; writing a poetry valued by his milieu would require so severe a disfigurement as to render him unrecognizable. And any amount of transformation might prove finally inadequate; in a famous poem from this period, “Orpheus in Greenwich Village,” he figures the singer’s ultimate alienation, an audience without ears.

But Gilbert’s work often expresses deeper doubts about poetry, seeing it as imposing demands that are in competition with life, or as distracting from the business of living. Here is the first poem in Gilbert’sfirst book, In Dispraise of Poetry :

When the King of Siam disliked a courtier,
He gave him a beautiful white elephant.
The miracle beast deserved such ritual
That to care for him properly meant ruin.
Yet to care for him improperly was worse.
It appears the gift could not be refused.

There’s a rich ambivalence here: poetry is “beautiful,” a “miracle beast”; and it is precisely its fineness that results in ruin. The charge of beauty imposes unbearable obligations. Their nature is made clear in a much later poem, “Less Being More,” from Refusing Heaven:

It started when he was a young man
and went to Italy. He climbed mountains,
wanting to be a poet. But was troubled
by what Dorothy Wordsworth wrote in
her journal about William having worn
himself out searching all day to find
a simile for nightingale. It seemed
a long way from the tug of passion.

What Gilbert distrusts about poems is the necessary artifice they entail, the process whereby experience is transformed into something communicable—the searching out of a metaphor to convey a bird’s call. Gilbert’s fear is that the very process of that transformation entails loss,that poetry requires an abstraction from experience, a reflectiveness at odds with “the tug of passion.” A day spent pondering a metaphor is a day lost to the experience of flesh-and-blood nightingales.

The poem is gently mocking of the young man who is its hero, who seeks out grand experience—climbing mountains—in order to conform to the standard narrative of the Romantic poet. Part of the inauthenticity of poetry as Gilbert conceives of it here inheres in that grandeur, in accepting another generation’s poetic narratives (the idea that poetry is made on mountaintops, for example) as one’s own. The poem goes on to suggest the different shape Gilbert’s career has taken:

He ended up staying in pensioni
where the old women would take up
the children in the middle of the night
to rent the room, carrying them warm
and clinging to the mothers, the babies
making a mewing sound. He began hunting
for the second rate. The insignificant
ruins, the negligible museums, the backcountry
villages with only one pizzeria
and two small bars. The unimproved.

To forge a truer aesthetic—not just a rehearsal of Romantic narratives—Gilbert turns away from received traditions of poetic grandeur, relishing instead, as all of his best poems relish, unglamorous particulars, the children “warm and clinging,” “the insignificant / ruins.” In his poems—as in his life—Gilbert seeks a genuineness that he suspects is precluded by the world’s attention. Poetry requires, for Gilbert, a kind of existential privacy, a removal from familiar stories and gestures, from the expected subject matter of poems, the “first rate,” the exceptional beauty.

Gilbert expresses a mistrust of such beauty, as well as an extraordinary susceptibility to it, throughout his career; it is an ambivalence that he is never fully able to resolve. He is wary everywhere of the exceptional that is acknowledged as such. In “The Abnormal is Not Courage,” one of the most famous poems from his first collection, Gilbert denies that the heroic gesture, the moment of exceptional sacrifice performed in the crucible of the world’s attention, deserves to be called “courage,” calling it instead merely “a passion”: “the worthless can manage in public, or for the moment. / It is too near the whore’s heart: the bounty of impulse, / and the failure to sustain even small kindness. / Not the marvelous act, but the evident conclusion of being.” And yet it’s these moments that compel us to poems, that possess, as Gilbert says here, “A magnitude of beauty that allows me no peace.” For Gilbert, there is no Keatsian certainty that beauty is simply truth; instead, seeking out truth frequently requires resisting the siren call of beauty, even as its claims can’t be fully or finally denied.

This quandary is the subject of another early poem, “The Sirens Again”:

What are we to do about loveliness? We get past
that singing early and reach an honest severity.
We all were part of the Children’s Crusade: trusted,
were sold bad boats, and went under. But we still
dream of the voices. Not to go back. Thinking
to go on even into the confusion of pleasure.
We hear them carol at night and do not mind the lies,
intending to come on those women from inland.

Gilbert turns to the sirens—one of our earliest conceptions of beauty as disastrous—-to convey his mistrust of the aesthetic, but the poem is more complicated than mere disavowal. “We get past / that singing early,” he says, and yet “we still / dream of the voices,” are still desirous of “the confusion of pleasure.” In fact, the poem isn’t a disavowal of beauty at all, but a disavowal of the usual approaches to it: “We hear them carol at night and do not mind the lies, / intending to come on those women from inland.” The poet dreams of an ingress to beauty that will allow him to avoid its perils, a way to reconcile beauty and truth, “an honest severity.”

What this reconciliation requires, for Gilbert, is a kind of aesthetic of rigor, an aesthetic he has spent much of his career articulating. The stylistic hallmarks of that aesthetic are clear even in these early poems: the halting immediacy of the sentence fragment; the impersonality of third person singular pronouns, or the universality of the first person plural; the aesthetic heat sparked by suggestive but unexplained juxtapositions (like the allusion to the Children’s Crusade in “The Sirens Again”). Throughout the career, Gilbert’s poems generally eschew suspended syntax, preferring short declarative statements over the subtlety of subordination. This is an aesthetic of limitation that has dissatisfied some critics. (“A minimalism of this sort has a knotty truth to it,” complained Helen Vendler in response to Monolithos, “but finally it seems constricted as a medium for existence, bound in a net of its own baffled devising.”) But what this limitation promises, for Gilbert, is a heightened intensity of experience. Eschewing abundance, he celebrates what he calls “the acute little that is there.”


Throughout Gilbert’s career, and increasingly in the later work, there is an anxiety about missing out on experience, about the ease with which we become mere spectators in our lives. “We end up asking what our lives really tasted like,” he writes in “Eating with the Emperor”; in “Bring in the Gods,” he complains that “we don’t have the knack for eating what we are living.” We find ourselves, he suggests, with evidence of an existence we have somehow missed—with, as he phrases it in the title of a poem from The Great Fires (Knopf, 1994), “Theoretical Lives”:

All that remains from the work of Skopas
are the feet. Sometimes not even that.
Sometimes only irregularities on the plinth
that may indicate how the figure stood.
Using the feet, or shadows of feet,
and the exact diagrams of German professors,
learned men argue about what the arms
were doing and how good the sculpture was.
As we do with our lives…

There’s much of Yeats’s “The Scholars” here, in the sense that, despite the application of a great deal of interpretive finesse and exertion, the essential object of our interest has been lost. (“Lord, what would they say, / Did their Catullus walk that way,” Yeats writes.) We’re left with increasingly less: feet, or just “shadows of feet,” from which to construe the rest of the figure. Gilbert presents another image of such distance from experience in a later poem in the same volume, “Hot Nights in Florida”: “The people here seem hardly here / at all: blond desire always in the middle of / air conditioning. He remembers love as it could be.”

While this fear is evident throughout Gilbert’s collections, the precise nature of the experience he fears missing is less clear. At times he claims to long for “the common”: “usually / we depend on meditation and having things augmented,” he writes in “Getting it All,” again from The Great Fires. “We see the trees in their early-spring greenness, / but not again until just before winter. The common / is mostly beyond us.” And yet his characteristic landscapes-the sun—hammered islands of Greece, Copenhagen in winter, an isolated mountain in Japan, the rusting steel mills of Pittsburgh—suggest the different scale of intensity his poems seem to be after. Indeed, he seems to long for a life augmented by a landscape that seems barely livable. Consider “The Other Perfection,” from Refusing Heaven:

Nothing here. Rock and fried earth.
Everything destroyed by the fierce light.
Only stones and small fields of
stubborn barley and lentils.

A kind of paradise. Everything itself.
The sea is water. Stones are made of rock.
The sun goes up and goes down. A success
without any enhancement whatsoever.

What Gilbert repeatedly claims is that such a stripped-down landscape takes us somehow beneath appearances, removing the distractions of loveliness and allowing us access to a deeper truth: “Truth becomes visible,” he writes of autumn in “Half the Truth,” “the architecture of the soul begins to show through. / God has put off his panoply and is at home with us. / We are returned to what lay beneath the beauty.” The rigorous landscape, like the rigorous aesthetic of its representation, seems for Gilbert to promise a way to get at something like truth, “the architecture of the soul.”

The experiences that carry the greatest charge of authenticity in these poems, that seem to reveal to us the most about ourselves, are experiences of suffering. “But we are alive / in the difficult way adults want to be alive,” Gilbert writes in “The Mistake,” a new poem in The Dance Most of All. “It is worth having the heart broken, / a blessing to hurt for eighteen years / because a woman is dead.” And indeed, many of Gilbert’s best poems are poems in the elegiac mode. There is a series of poems in Monolithos astonishing in its candor as it details the deterioration of Gilbert’s marriage to the poet Linda Gregg, cataloguing what he calls “the beauty as the marriage steadily failed” (“All the Way from There to Here”). The poems that seem likeliest to ensure a permanent readership for Gilbert, however, are the elegies, most of them collected in The Great Fires and Refusing Heaven, written in memory of his wife, Michiko Nogami, who died of cancer at the age of thirty-six.

Gilbert writes with great and unsentimental pathos about Nogami’s death, and he unflinchingly details the final months of her life, when he lived with her through the unbearable intimacy of her dying. “Michiko is dying in the house behind me,” he writes in “Finding Something”:

the long windows open so I can hear
the faint sound she will make when she wants
watermelon to suck or so I can take her
to a bucket in the corner of the high-ceilinged room
which is the best we can do for a chamber pot.
She will lean against my leg as she sits
so as not to fall over in her weakness.
How strange and fine to get so near to it.

This is one of the most affecting descriptions of grief I know in our recent poetry, rare in its complete freedom from self-aggrandizement as it documents the speaker’s tending of his wife. (The poem’s final image, “my heart is as helpless as crushed birds,” slightly deflates the poem’s otherwise perfectly distant pathos.) The passage is moving even in the very cast of its sentences, the first—as long a sentence as one is likely to encounter in Gilbert’s work—giving way to the starker declarative statement that follows it, and then to the single, shocking line of affirmation: “How strange and fine to get so near to it.” The referentless “it” is a frequent element of Gilbert’s poems; nearly always, as here, it signifies something like “the center of experience,” the object of his most persistent inquiry. “How could he later on believe it was the best / time when his wife died unexpectedly / and he wandered every day among the trees, crying / for more than a year?” the poet asks in “Beyond Beginnings.” Whatever the grief that provokes it, the discernment of the “strange and fine” thing remains a triumph.


Gilbert has been most exhaustively discussed as an erotic poet, and it is true that his poems about particular women—Gregg and Nogami, but also Gianna Gelmetti, his first love, and a woman named Anna with whom he had a brief and powerful affair—are among his best work. Since his second book, he has written beautifully—like Yeats, like Eliot—about the survival of the erotic impulse into old age: “What if the heart does not pale as the body wanes,” he asks in “Getting Ready,” “but is like the sun that blazes hotter each day / on these immense, perishing fields?” In one of several poems in The Dance Most of All that revisit his youth in Pittsburgh, Gilbert remembers the “old men of shabby clothes” who “came from their one room” to attend strip shows “in the lavish / theaters left over from vaudeville.” “The old men came,” he writes:

To remember what used
to be. Like the gray-haired men of Ilium
who waited each morning for Helen
to cross over to the temple in her light raiment.
The waning men longed to escape from the spell
cast over them by time. To escape the imprisoned
longing. To insist on dispensation. To see
their young hearts just one more time.

Gilbert invests these men, who might so easily be ridiculous, with a moving, classical dignity, insisting that the erotic impulse whose song they follow is the same that fueled the grand passions of Homeric epic. The erotic, like the landscapes Gilbert’s poems so often inhabit, is a way to escape the self ‘s diminishment.

But it is not a purely benign force, and the presentation of the erotic as savage risk has been under-read by Gilbert’s critics. “Midnight is Made of Bricks,” a vicious poem from his first book, vividly expresses a sense of Eros as affliction:

I am old of this ravening.
Poisoned of their God-damned flesh.
The ugly man-flesh.
And the fat woman-flesh.
I am tired and sick and old of it.
But the precise addiction is unrelenting.

Sexual need is a crushing cycle in this poem, sending the narrator out predatory in the streets of North Beach, cruising for “the next one”: “In Vesuvio’s maybe / Where they come like deer.” The simile both inscribes the poem into our oldest traditions of love poetry (“Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind”) and reminds us that romance often partakes of the hunt’s savagery. It is a perception that survives into the late poems collected in The Dance Most of All: “Gentle love and some / almost like an animal with its prey,” he writes in “Cherishing
What Isn’t.”

If the theme of the erotic inspires many of Gilbert’s best poems, it also provokes his worst. I’ve argued that Gilbert inherits from his Romantic forebears the philosophy of essences that subtends his work, and he also inherits from them—again, especially from Wordsworth—at once an impulse to make that philosophy explicit and a sometimes painful tendency to pontificate. Poems are often fruitful resources for philosophers, but seldom are poets successful at “doing” philosophy, and long, lifeless passages of discursive propositions—which have marred some of Gilbert’s poems throughout his career—have grown more numerous in the late work. Across his career, Gilbert has promulgated a mythology around women, investing them with the sense of numinous presence, of being at the center of experience, that so many of his poems seek. “It was not / their flesh that was a mystery but something on the other / side of it,” he writes in “Steel Guitars,” from The Great Fires. The transcendence promised by Eros can be a moving theme for Gilbert: in “Man at a Window,” as the protagonist feels the postcoital, “random intensity sliding away, / unrecoverable,” Gilbert writes powerfully of “trying to break the code while there is still time.” And Gilbert can engagingly ironize the quest to find truth through sex, as in the much discussed poem, “Sects,” which lambastes—not least through the pun of its title—”the failed denomination / I was part of, that old false dream of woman.”

In the late work, however, Gilbert has increasingly presented this “old false dream” with all the shine of true revelation. “We are / allowed to visit hearts of women, / to go into their bodies so we feel / no longer alone,” he writes in “The Lost Hotels of Paris,” from Refusing Heaven; in “Moreover,” just twelve or so pages later in the same volume, he ups the ante: “We are allowed / women so we can get into bed with the Lord, / however partial and momentary that is.” “What we are given is taken away,” he acknowledges—the revelation is partial and momentary—”but we manage to keep it secretly.” In “A Fact”—notice the title!—from The Dance Most of All, he delivers a miniature lecture on the nature of “The woman”:

The woman is not just a pleasure,
nor even a problem. She is a meniscus
that allows the absolute to have a shape,
that lets him skate however briefly
on the mystery, her presence luminous
on the ordinary and grand.

Again what’s promised is promised only “briefly,” but the genuineness of the revelation—it “allows the absolute to have a shape—-is not questioned. Gilbert’s admirers often feel the need to defend passages like these from charges of sexism. To my mind, there’s no question that those charges are well-aimed. However vivid and loving Gilbert’s portraits of individual women, his philosophy of Woman sees her as existing entirely and exclusively for the benefit of men, the repository of a mystical significance it is man’s privilege to unlock. But charges of sexism are beside the point; more egregious is the leaden abstraction of these lines. And yet even this risible philosophy can be made genuinely pathetic in the context of other poems, as when Gilbert writes, of the presences of past loves he has summoned: “I know how easily they come, / summoned by our yearning. I realize the luminosity / can be a product of our heart’s furnace. It would / erase my life to find I made it up” (“Becoming Regardless”).


Other poems suggest a more compelling notion of what the erotic promises for Gilbert, and suggest another sense of the experience he seeks in his battered landscapes and life of rich deprivation. In “The White Heart of God,” from The Great Fires, the poet finds himself in yet another punishing landscape, a cabin “in the naked woods,” alone in the depth of winter, where he is “doing the year’s accounts,” attempting to take the measure of himself, “trying to estimate how much / he has been translated.” Here is the end of the poem:

He hopes for even the faintest evidence,
the presence of the Lord’s least abundance. He measures
with tenderness, afraid to find a heart more classical
than ripe. Hoping for honey, for love’s alembic.

What Gilbert hopes for, in a strange paradox, is that somehow deprivation will be revealed to be abundance: that the self stripped bare will be distilled, refined, and transformed. Repeatedly his bare landscapes inexplicably become places of plenty, as in “On Stones,” from the same volume, where a region of granite is invested with a “sun / hammering this earth into pomegranates / and grapes.” Similarly, in “Everywhere and Forever,” the first poem of the new volume, “on a mountain / flayed bare by the great sun” there thrives “the pomegranate tree with its exaggerated fruit.”

Just as bare earth might be hammered into plenty, so Gilbert imagines his heart blistered to ripeness. His real “quarry,” as he writes in “Triangulating,” also from the new volume, has been “The something we were changing into.” This image of transformation is frequently figured as distillation (“Love’s alembic”), a process whereby—by reducing a thing to its essence—a new potency comes into being, a new sweetness to recompense the pain of what has been lost. And this—not skating on the meniscus of the absolute—is what he seeks in the experience of love. He writes in “Painting on Plato’s Wall,” another new poem:

We cobble love together
from this and those of our machinery
until there is suddenly an apparition
that never existed before. There it is,
unaccountable. The woman and our
desire are somehow turned into
brandy by Athena’s tiny owl filling
the darkness around an old villa
on the mountain with its plaintive
mewing. As a man might be
turned into someone else while
living kind of happy up there
with the lady’s gentle dying.

Even in these late, perhaps last poems, Gilbert seeks out still the fruit of a life lived in the heat and pressure of “the heart’s furnace”: the renewal and transformation of the self.

ALYOSHA, by Jack Gilbert

ALYOSHA, by Javk Gilbert


The sound of women hidden
among the lemon trees. A sweetness
that can live with the mind, a family
that does not wear away. He will let
twenty lives pass and choose the twenty-
first. He longs to live married to
slowness. He lives now with the lambs
the minute they are being born,
lives with their perfection as they
blunder around right away in pure innocence.
He watches them go up the mountain
each morning with the twelve-year-old
nearly child. Living with his faith
as he watches them eaten at Easter
to celebrate Christ. He is not innocent.
He knows the shepherdess will be given
to the awful man who lives at the farm
closest to him. He blesses all of it
as he mourns and the white doves soar
silently in the perfect blue sky.

The True Believers

The True Believers

From birth/baptism to pre-adolescence, surrounded & immersed in the Catholic Christianity of an insular, ethnic neighborhood, there was never any reason to doubt the things I was told and taught about God & Jesus, or the vast, richly-detailed hierarchy from Lucifer at the base to the Triune Godhead at the apex. I could have no conception of belief & unbelief because there was simply no other available concept beyond God as Creator and Jesus as Savior (what I was being saved FROM was always a bit murky, ‘Original Sin’ being far too subtle & convoluted for young minds). My innocence was pure, untouched by secular doubt, and thus my Faith was perfect. That purity of belief is eventually challenged in everyone when a wider awareness of reality, a deeper understanding of ritual, symbol & myth is attained, usually beginning in young adulthood, when serious reading begins. I discovered metaphor in poetry & fiction, and thenceforward have been energetically engaged in applying it’s truths to the scriptural & dogmatic tales & teachings of organized religion. That process of discovery itself has it’s own symbols & metaphors – in the Garden of Eden’s tree of knowledge & it’s fruits, the Greek story of Prometheus bringing fire to mankind, and others from different cultures worldwide.

This is all prelude to my question: How do adult Christian True Believers maintain their insistence that the Bible is the ‘Word of God’, that it’s both historical and scientifically valid, when it’s so plainly obvious that so much of it is patently absurd?…the answer they offer is that Faith is beyond Reason, and that Belief is a Surrender to an All-Powerful God whose ‘Mysterious Ways’ include believing in an infallible book filled with the most outlandish things!….there’s no need to catalog them, they’re found in every Book, Old & New Testament, and a great many of them hold a kernel of Spiritual Truth if viewed in the proper perspective (metaphorically), but I’m as appalled as I am fascinated by how True Believers can POSSIBLY believe the things they say they do…….to be blunt, I think it’s all a bunch of self-deluding superstitious medieval clap-trap, perpetuated by spiritually traumatized adults on vulnerable, emotionally traumatized children… my friend Jimmy Mejias is fond of saying, “Make the connect.”

j. j. marino

Ovid in Tears, by Jack Gilbert

Ovid in Tears, by Jack Gilbert

Ovid in Tears

Love is like a garden in the heart, he said.
They asked him what he meant by garden.
He explained about gardens. “In the cities,”
he said, “there are places walled off where color
and decorum are magnified into a civilization.
Like a beautiful woman,” he said. How like
a woman, they asked. He remembered their wives
and said garden was just a figure of speech,
then called for drinks all around. Two rounds
later he was crying. Talking about how Charlemagne
couldn’t read but still made a world. About Hagia
Sophia and putting a round dome on a square
base after nine hundred years of failure.
The hand holding him slipped and he fell.
“White stone in the white sunlight,” he said
as they picked him up. “Not the great fires
built on the edge of the world.” His voice grew
fainter as they carried him away. “Both the melody
and the symphony. The imperfect dancing
in the beautiful dance. The dance most of all.”

Failing & Flying by Jack Gilbert

Failing & Flying by Jack Gilbert

Failing and Flying
by Jack Gilbert

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.

Proverbs of Hell, by William Blake

Proverbs of Hell, by William Blake

Proverbs of Hell.

In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.
Drive your cart and your plow over the bones of the dead.
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.
Prudence is a rich ugly old maid courted by Incapacity.
He who desires but acts not, breeds pestilence.
The cut worm forgives the plow.
Dip him in the river who loves water.
A fool sees not the same tree that a wise man sees.
He whose face gives no light, shall never become a star.
Eternity is in love with the productions of time.
The busy bee has no time for sorrow.
The hours of folly are measur’d by the clock, but of wisdom: no clock can measure.
All wholsom food is caught without a net or a trap.
Bring out number weight & measure in a year of dearth.
No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings.
A dead body revenges not injuries.
The most sublime act is to set another before you.
If the fool would persist in his folly he would become wise.
Folly is the cloke of knavery.
Shame is Prides cloke.

Prisons are built with stones of Law, Brothels with bricks of Religion.
The pride of the peacock is the glory of God.
The lust of the goat is the bounty of God.
The wrath of the lion is the wisdom of God.
The nakedness of woman is the work of God.
Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps.
The roaring of lions, the howling of wolves, the raging of the stormy sea, and the destructive sword, are portions of eternity too great for the eye of man.
The fox condemns the trap, not himself.
Joys impregnate. Sorrows bring forth.
Let man wear the fell of the lion. woman the fleece of the sheep.
The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.
The selfish smiling fool, & the sullen frowning fool shall be both thought wise, that they may be a rod.
What is now proved was once only imagin’d.
The rat, the mouse, the fox, the rabbet; watch the roots; the lion, the tyger, the horse, the elephant, watch the fruits.
The cistern contains: the fountain overflows.
One thought fills immensity.
Always be ready to speak your mind, and a base man will avoid you.
Every thing possible to be believ’d is an image of truth.
The eagle never lost so much time, as when he submitted to learn of the crow.

The fox provides for himself. but God provides for the lion.
Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the evening. Sleep in the night.
He who has suffer’d you to impose on him knows you.
As the plow follows words, so God rewards prayers.
The tygers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.
Expect poison from the standing water.
You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.
Listen to the fools reproach! it is a kingly title!
The eyes of fire, the nostrils of air, the mouth of water, the beard of earth.
The weak in courage is strong in cunning.
The apple tree never asks the beech how he shall grow; nor the lion, the horse, how he shall take his prey.
The thankful reciever bears a plentiful harvest.
If others bad not been foolish, we should be so.
The soul of sweet delight can never be defil’d.
When thou seest an Eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius. lift up thy head!
As the catterpiller chooses the fairest leaves to lay her eggs, so the priest lays his curse on the fairest joys.
To create a little flower is the labour of ages.
Damn braces: Bless relaxes.
The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.
Prayers plow not! Praises reap not!
Joys laugh not! Sorrows weep not!

The head Sublime, the heart Pathos, the genitals Beauty, the hands & feet Proportion.
As the air to a bird or the sea to a fish, so is contempt to the contemptible.
The crow wish’d every thing was black, the owl, that every thing was white.
Exuberance is Beauty.
If the lion was advised by the fox. he would be cunning.
Improvement makes strait roads, but the crooked roads without Improvement, are roads of Genius.
Sooner murder an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.
Where man is not, nature is barren.
Truth can never be told so as to be understood, and not be believ’d.
Enough! or Too much.

21st Century Schizoid Man

21st Century Schizoid Man

I lost it yesterday on Facebook, succumbed to the Dark Side and went skittering down the slippery slope of social-media impropriety. I fully understand that I invite it in the 1st place by participating in this still-young experiment in jiggering a new consciousness (that’s what we’re doing here, realize it or not, or perhaps just reconfiguring the old one), but yesterday, right from the get-go, I was rudely shanghaied by my refreshingly-odd fb friend Lord Robertson before I’d finished my 1st cup of coffee. He had added me to a Group called The Incredible Huggers Society, so I beamed over to have a look-see. I’d lurk, of course, and just observe the folkways & rituals like a proper cyber-anthropologist. The site seemed to be the love child of 2 Filipino girls, one of whose name was ‘Angel’. There was a lot of that Tagalog bama-lama lingo which irritates me anyway, but the worst of it was the unrelenting cheeriness & mawkish displays of undying love & affection, as if everyone in the group were vying for some Miss Congeniality award (the few guy hugged & bestowed smiles & kisses with a sort of sheepish docility). I watched for awhile as they commented on each others  posts of  cupids & angels (of course) & brightly colored unicorns, cringed at their appalling strings of happy-heart & smiley-face emoticons, bit my tongue over their long & fervent proclamations about the awesome healing power of the common hug, until Angel herself  (beaming coquettishly in her profile pic) noticed the new group member, me, and bestowed the full package of welcoming hearts, hugs & exclamation points on me. I felt the need to respond, drop a quick hello/goodbye & remove myself from the group…but the impish Trickster in me won out. I Googled-up an image of a lynched heart ( & posted it on their page, hoping to get some kind of nuanced response. They loved it, thought it was beautiful & showered me with Incredible Hugs. I made only slightly-veiled wiseass comments, which were met with confused hahaha’s & dreaded El-Oh-El’s. They continued tittering & spreading joy amongst themselves while I grew increasingly agitated. Had they no shame? (one gleefully admitted she had peed her pants when hugged by some Bollywood heart-throb celebrity)…Had they no decency? (another gushed about the manliness of his embrace)…Had they no fucking brains?!….I controlled mt impulse to mention starvation in Ethiopia or homeless vets dying in the streets, and was about to remove myself from their gaiety with a final oblique remark, when I saw a new notification pop up. I opened it to find, to my utter horror & dismay, that another erstwhile fb friend  had added me to an ‘Intelligent Design’ Group!….I’ve had plenty of run-ins with these moronic & close-minded  Christian Biblical Literalists, and just the thought of them pushed me over the edge. I knew what I’d be getting into, that my day would be ruined trying to drive some sense into their hard heads, but I was halfway to distraction anyway with the smiling huggers, so I bit & went looking to pick a fight…but first, as a departing gift to Angel & her joyous mob, I posted a vid of Barry Manilow singing ‘Can’t Smile Without You’ (I’m sure they thought it was marvelous).

As I knew would happen, I spent the rest of the day posting endless scientific refutations of their assinine anti-evolutionary theories of a young earth & a miraculous divine ‘Creationism’, all the while growing more & more frustrated with their refusal (inability?) to admit that Noah could not possibly have fit all those animals on his ark, or that dinosaurs had gone extinct tens of millions of years before the first humans had appeared…..while awaiting further displays of their arrogant ignorance, I posted increasingly harsh images of frustration & anger on my own Facebook page to let off steam……I suppose I should just steer clear of certain types, but sometimes I just can’t resist taking the bait…damn you, impish Trickster!

j.j. marino

The Truth About Physics

The Truth About Physics

A rigorous perusal of either dynamism and/or demographics will uncover the relative implausibility of results obtained from any closed system whose rigid parameters exclude oscillating (or even simply recursive) perturbations in any experiments conducted in the negative space of auto-catalytic, multi-molecular vesicles. Certain non-linear condusive apparatus, when oriented along pre-axial lines of electro-magnetic frequencies, can be, as it were, “strong-armed” into yielding coherent ratios, but be that as it may, the artifice collapses when subjected to density fluctuation or macroscopic bifurcation. Our knowledge of non-equilibrium statistical selection deflects any attempt at the interjection of isothermal phases without first considering the synthesis of pre-biotic polymer molecules, or those of the second order, which are of the proteic type.

Thus is proven the wisdom of Sir Arthur Eddington when commenting on Werner Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle:
“Something unknown is doing we don’t know what.”

j.j. marino

Re-blogging my friend Dana Lone Hill.

Just A Rez Chick

(Repost from my old column and from blogger originally posted February 13th, 2008. The anonymous story of the lady beating the art teacher was my Grandma Dod’s story, who let me tell the story with the promise I would leave her name out of it and buy her some hamburger. My Grandma Dod left me and all of us later that summer and our lives haven’t been the same without our “mean Indian woman” of a grandma around. Rest in peace Grams.)

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