Wednesday, February 24, 2010


I found a wonderful book of poetry at the library today by a poet whose work I didn't previously know, Jack Gilbert:  Monolithos: Poems, 1962 and 1982.  Unfortunately, it's out of print; I scoured the internet looking for it, because it is one of those rare library finds that I want to own forever, but I can't find a copy for under a hundred bucks.  So I suppose I'll keep renewing it until I'm forced to return it.

Here are two short poems, found on facing pages:

Heart Skidding
The pigeon with a broken wing.
The pigeon with no left foot.
That pigeon with his beak grown wrong
starving among the others eating.
Or the homeless old women carrying
all they own in worn shopping bags
around Chicago at three in the morning.
What is the point of my suffering?
They are nothing to me. Filthy
pigeons.  Jew-hating old women.
Why does it bother with me?

Imagine if suffering were real.
Imagine if those old people were afraid of death.
What if the midget or the girl with one arm
really felt pain?  Imagine how impossible it would be
to live if some people were
alone and afraid all their lives.


To me this is up there with the best writing, and possibly the best art across disciplines:  lucid, naked, deeply moving, saying everything while appearing to say little.


Enbrethiliel said...


In the link you provide, Pentimento, there is a quote from the poet James Dickey that describes Jack Gilbert's work as "poems of savage compassion"--and I think that's spot on.

I think his "Imagine if suffering were real" could do more for the "brotherhood of man" than John Lennon's "Imagine there's no hunger" ever has.

Rodak said...

Are you familiar with the poetry of Jane Kenyon?

Pentimento said...

I only have the vaguest familiarity with her work, Rodak, though I love the work of Donald Hall, her husband. Can you recommend anything in particular?

Rodak said...

Let Evening Come

If I've done the html correctly, that is my favorite poem by Jane Kenyon.
A couple of years ago, I discovered through a website put up by alumni of my high school, that Jane Kenyon and I had been classmates. And yet I never knew her. My school--Ann Arbor Pioneer High--was very large; one didn't know everyone. But there was this genius in our midst, and I missed her.
She was not a particularly attractive girl, and I was a shallow adolescent boy; that's what it comes down to. If I'd have had the sensitivity at the time to choose "the bunny with one ear," what a window that might have opened in my life. Jane Kenyon and I both studied French; both wrote poetry; both went to the University of Michigan; yet I have not one memory of her.
I did meet Donald Hall, who was on the English faculty at Michigan while I was there, although I never had a class with him.
When I discovered that I had missed Jane Kenyon, I went up to the stacks of the library in which I now work, and borrowed everything by her, and about her, that was on the shelves.
Her collected poetry has recently been published; I would recommend that.
I wrote about all of the above on my blog, if you are interested.
I consider Jane Kenyon to have been a better--even much better--poet than Donald Hall, btw.
Had Jane Kenyon not tragically died so young, I would have tried to correspond with her, once I discovered our "connection." Alas.

Rodak said...

Re: Jane Kenyon.

Pentimento said...

I love the poem, Rodak. Thank you for the link.

And what an amazing story. She will be brought home on my next library outing.

There's a poet I love, Laura Fargas, who's only published one book that I'm aware of, *An Animal of the Sixth Day*. When I found the Jack Gilbert book, it struck me that she had been influenced by him.

Pentimento said...

I'll read up on JK on your blog. Thanks for the link.

Rodak said...

I'll trade you Sandra Agricola for Laura Fargas.

Pentimento said...

Someone else I don't know. I'll check her out. You would probably like Laura Fargas a lot.

Rodak said...

Thank you. I'm headed up to the stacks to get "An animal of the sixth day" right now. I seldom ignore tips from intelligent sources.

Pentimento said...

I hope you like it.

Rodak said...

I just read the first several poems, and I do like it, very much. I also went upstairs and borrowed "Monolithos." Reading a few passages therein at random on my way back to my desk impressed me as favorably as did the lines you posted. I've been needing to discover some new poetry. Your post was providential at just this time. Thanks again.

Karen E. said...


In the link, Dickey also said: "He takes himself away to a place more inward than is safe to go."

He's new to me -- thanks.

I also love Jane Kenyon. "Let Evening Come" is one of my favorites. Also, Briefly It Enters, Briefly Speaks and Happiness.

Pentimento said...

Thanks, for those links, Karen. I love the second poem especially.

Rodak said...

I mentioned Sandra Agricola in a previous comment. You can get a taste of her work here.

One of the Agricola poems I excerpt was brought to mind by these words of Jack Gilbert, from "Island and Figs":

The heart
never fits
the journey.
one ends

Rodak said...

Yes. Those are both very beautiful poems. Thanks for posting the links.