Jack Gilbert (1925-2012)
When I was 18 years old and knew next to nothing
about poetry besides Bill Wordsworth and Ed Poe,
my composition teacher passed a photocopy of one
of your poems out to our class and it changed my life.
I knew I hadn’t ever read a poem quite like it before.
It seemed like everywhere I went, I found your words.
Another teacher, face full of awe, recited to our class
your lines, “I say moon is horses in the tempered dark
because horse is the closest I can get to it.” Leaving us
all speechless. Nothing left to do but dismiss class then.
Some years later, a friend told me that he’d heard you
were living in Massachusetts—unsure whether or not
your poems were being read and unsure whether or not
people cared about your work. I resolved to look you up,
find you, and let you know just how important you were.
And you were not that hard to find. On a business trip,
I went out of my way to find the street in Northampton
a computer said you lived on. I found the house, parked,
knocked on the door, and the man who came to the door
told me you lived up over his garage—he invited me in.
The first thing you said to me was, “Why are you here?”
I tried to say something about being a fan of your work.
But you said, “No, why are you really here?” And I said,
“Well, because I’m…a poet.” And you said, “That’s right,
you have to say it.” And you asked me where I was from.
I said I was up from Pittsburgh, but that I was born in Detroit.
You said, “Well…that’s like jumping from one smokestack
to another.” You asked me why I wanted to be a poet. I told
you I just wanted to write good poems. “What about fame,”
you asked me, “Or money?” “No,” I said, “Just good poems.”
You asked me to read you some of my poems. I admitted
to being a little nervous. “I know,” you said, “I was nervous
when I went to visit Pound in the castle. But Pound told me
then that he was done reading the work of younger writers…
so you can’t do a whole lot worse than that.” You were right.
So I read you some of my poems. And we talked them over.
You asked to keep them, saying, “Write your name on them.”
I asked if you thought you’d publish another book of poems.
And you said, “I didn’t think so,” pausing, “But my ex-wife
Linda calls me every day and tries to convince me I should.”
A few months after my visit, I wrote you a letter of thanks.
I sent you a few of my newest poems. Several months later,
I got a postcard from you, telling me you were working on
a new book of poems. It was to be our first and last bit of
correspondence. You said, “I liked saying something most.”
Pittsburgh Quarterly is now accepting submissions for its weekly online poetry feature. PQ Poem is seeking poetry from local, national and international poets that highlight a strong voice and good use of imagery, among other criteria. To have your work featured, send up to three previously unpublished poems in Word or PDF format as well as a brief bio to firstname.lastname@example.org
Simultaneous submissions are accepted, but if work is accepted elsewhere, please alert us.