The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Something else

Posted on: March 6, 2007

INTERVIEWER

Have you ever looked to other writers for inspiration?

GILBERT

I liked many writers but never found a teacher.

INTERVIEWER

In your interview with Gordon Lish in Genesis West, you say that there are two kinds of poetry. On the one hand, there are poems that give delight; on the other, there are poems that do something else. What do you mean by “something else”?

GILBERT

I think serious poems should make something happen that’s not correct or entertaining or clever. I want something that matters to my heart, and I don’t mean “Linda left me.” I don’t want that. I’ll write that poem, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about being in danger–as we all are–of dying. How can you spend your life on games or intricately accomplished things? And politics? Politics is fine. There’s a place to care for the injustice of the world, but that’s not what the poem is about. The poem is about the heart. Not the heart as in “I’m in love” or “my girl cheated on me”–I mean the conscious heart, the fact that we are the only things in the entire universe that know true consciousness. We’re the only things–leaving religion out of it–we’re the only things in the world that know spring is coming.

INTERVIEWER

How do you start a poem?

GILBERT

There’s no one way. Sometimes I’m walking along the street and I find it there. Sometimes it’s something I’ve been thinking about. Sometimes it’s an apparition.

INTERVIEWER

How do you know when you’ve finished one?

GILBERT

If I’m writing well it comes to an end with an almost-audible click. When I started out I wouldn’t write a poem until I knew the first line and the last line and what it was about and what would make it a success. I was a tyrant and I was good at it. But the most important day in my career as a writer was when Linda said, Did you ever think of listening to your poems? And my poetry changed. I didn’t give up making precreated poetry, but you have to write a poem the way you ride a horse–you have to know what to do with it. You have to be in charge of a horse or it will eat all day–you’ll never get back to the barn. But if you tell the horse how to be a horse, if you force it, the horse will probably break a leg. The horse and rider have to be together.

INTERVIEWER

Is that why your style is unadorned and not ornamental?

GILBERT

Oh, I like ornament at the right time, but I don’t want a poem to be made out of decoration. If you like that kind of poetry, more power to you, but it doesn’t interest me. When I read the poems that matter to me, it stuns me how much the presence of the heart–in all its forms–is endlessly available there. To experience ourselves in an important way just knocks me out. It puzzles me why people have given that up for cleverness. Some of them are ingenious, more ingenious that I am, but so many of them aren’t any good at being alive.

 

From “The Art of Poetry” No. 91 interview with Jack Gilbert, The Paris Review, Fall/Winter 2005

 

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1 Response to "Something else"

The interviewer didn’t bite on “apparition”? Sheesh.

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