From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. This fifth collection from Gilbert (Refusing Heaven
) adds an intense, almost nonstop nostalgia to the gifts his longtime devotees will recognize. After early success, Gilbert spent much of the 1960s and 1970s in rural Europe, far out of the limelight; he lived for years on a Greek island with his first wife, the poet Linda Gregg (to whom he dedicates this volume). Here he remembers his years in Greece, where the blue Aegean is far down and the slow ships/ far out, and his almost equally bright years in rural Italy—though he also remembers the yearnings and struggles of Growing Up in Pittsburgh. Even more than landscape or cityscape, though, Gilbert's gravelly blank verse, unrhymed sonnets and looser forms remember the pleasures and sad moments of the body and of the erotic life: The shameful ardor/ and the shameless intimacy, the secret kinds/ of happiness and the walled-up childhoods, from first kisses to the way love is after fifty. However tied to autobiography, Gilbert seeks not confessional poetry, but the older, more spiritually alert tradition of Rodin and Rilke: The world is beyond us even as we own it, Winter Happiness in Greece begins; It is a hugeness in which we climb towards. (Apr.)
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Born in 1925, Gilbert has long lived in poetry, gathering major awards and private triumphs and acquiring the sparkling fluency that shapes this gracefully meditative and quietly witty collection. Gilbert has lived in many lands, and his deftly limned landscapes set the stage for playful yet incisive pastoral vignettes that are at once timeless and time-focused. Gilbert writes, “He longs to live married to / slowness,” the better, one imagines, to practice the art of attentiveness. Gilbert’s exacting lyrics are pithy and poignant, vessels of stillness and dazzle, beauty and longing, blithe spirit and wry wisdom. He writes of Ovid and strippers, war and prayer, childhood and romance. He advocates for imperfection, and declares, “The truth is, goddesses are lousy in bed.” He fashions clarifying aphorisms: “Goodness is a triumph. And so it is / with love.” “Our lives are hard to know.” Music is carried on a breeze; rain is silvery, and feelings last while reason crumbles. The airiest line carries hidden cargo as Gilbert forges unexpected connections and ponders the dizzying dance of life. --Donna Seaman