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The Dance Most of All: Poems Hardcover – April 7, 2009

4.4 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 80 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (April 7, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307270769
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307270764
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 0.5 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,607,538 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By B. Albanese on October 15, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
"The Dance Most of All" offers clear evidence that Gilbert's powers have waned. The searing honesty, wisdom and beauty which characterized his two previous collections are present but in a much less passionate way. There are
no poems of the oracular efficacy of " Dante Dancing" or "Failing and Flying".
While it may not be fair to criticize a poet's later work by reference to those preceding it, the drop-off in
intensity is intensely felt. There are memorable lines and tidy poems which those who like Mr. Gilbert's work must and will have, but it is recommended that those unfamiliar with him, start with the earlier works and let their vigor startle your soul into fuller life.

That being said, I would recommend the following poems: "Waiting and Finding", "Winter Happiness in Greece",
"Becoming Regardless", "The Danger of Wisdom" "Summer at Blue Creek, N.C.", "The Answer" and "Cherishing What Isn't".

"The Danger of Wisdom" presents simple declarative sentences which urge us by counter example to live passionately
and to expend our passion:

"We learn to live without passion.
To be reasonable....We store up plenty
For when we are old and mild."

Gilbert then relates anecdotes about two famous writers, Keats and Emerson. We`are told that Keats, listening to his doctor, attended to a stricter diet for his tuberculosis, starving himself to death
"because he yearned
so desperately to feast on Fanny Brawne."

On the other hand, Emerson and his wife made love " sparingly in order to accumulate his passion. "

The close of the poem brings us back to its beginning:

"We are taught to be
moderate.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Jack Gilbert's printed output is slim but among the most powerful poetry you will ever read. Refusing Heaven bespoke a maturity, a clarity of vision and language that literally blew my mind. The Dance Most of All is even better (an impossibility in my view). The same subjects are present, the death of his beloved Japanese wife, Memories of Pittsburgh, of the places he's lived and visited throughout the world but it is in fact a travelogue of the human soul. Gilbert deserves ten thousand stars. he is a poet to read and treasure.
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Format: Paperback
There are, to be sure, poets who inhabit very particular realms (the dysfunction of family and society, relationships and all of their misshapen glory), and who choose to stay there; poets who write within the comfortable confines of their own doing; poets, who, for all of their talent and experience, are defined by such strict terms as “experimental” or “post-modern,” by “confessional” or “traditional.” While such categories are meant to guide readers–and to make it easier to sell books–it can be said that some poets are restricted by these tags, in that we know ahead of time what to expect. (After all, John Ashbery will remain John Ashbery, no matter how many detractors end up pining for something different, something less befuddling.)

And then there are poets like Jack Gilbert. His latest collection, The Dance Most of All, described by Knopf, with absolutely no irony, as the “culmination of a career spanning more than half a century of American poetry,” features poems that are less observations of the begotten world, and more like treatises on the nature of love as betrayal, and the inevitability of disaster. The poems are more like elegies for what is misunderstood, what is imperfect, or what is simply unknown. In this respect, Gilbert escapes easy categorization: Is he a writer of the heart, a Romantic out of time? Is he the embodied voice of the dispossessed? Or is he the poet of the senses, of “the sound of women hidden/among the lemon trees”? This is the extreme pleasure for a reader absorbed in Gilbert’s work, as the promise that his poems have no end is fulfilled; the realization that his poems start with a single image, but direct you to multiple exit points, pushes one further.
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Format: Hardcover
Jack Gilbert, The Dance Most of All (Knopf, 2009)

My run of excellent poetry continues (though it did die, however briefly, a few days after this review was written; cf. Let's Talk Honestly: My Poetry review earlier this issue) with Jack Gilbert's National Book Critics Circle Award-winning 2009 tome. From the opening lines, you know you're dealing with someone who is very, very good at what he does:

"It pleases him that the villa is on a mountain
flayed bare by the great sun. All around
are a thousand stone walls in ruin. He likes knowing
the house was built by the king's telegrapher...."
("Everywhere and Forever")

Observation and history intertwined and not a word more than is necessary. Sentence structure is standard, with just a bit of word choice ("flayed bare by the great sun") to distinguish it from prose--but distinguished it is, and there is once again a sense of the thinness of the line between prose and poetry, but at the same time that understanding that the less finesse with which you straddle it, the wider it becomes. (As I mentioned before, Let's Talk Honestly. When you pitch headlong onto the poetry side of the chasm, you run to doggerel...)

Now, we're all aware of books that start off with a bang and then fall off the proverbial cliff, but that generally doesn't happen with poetry; it's tough to fake quality, and so once you know that you're going to be thrilled with this book, you'll immerse yourself in its pleasures. Yes, it's that good.
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