After you read this Jack Gilbert interview excerpt from The Paris Review, write about a specific moment where you may have been living an adult dream of your own. What makes that moment matter to you?
GILBERTNow it’s time to live the adult dreams, if I can find them. The others were dreams from childhood—first love and such, which is wonderful. It’s interesting to discover that we don’t have adult dreams—pleasure and pride, but not really adult dreams.
Let me try to explain. I have a poem, “Trying to Have Something Left Over,” in which I’ve been unfaithful to my wife and she knows it and she’s mad. It’s the last night and I’m going to say goodbye to Anna, the other woman. She’s had a baby—not by me—and her husband has left her because he couldn’t take all that muck of a baby being born. This is the last night I’ll ever see her and I feel incredibly tender and grateful and loving toward her. And we’re not in bed—previously we had a wild relationship. Anyway, here’s the last night to say goodbye. She’s cleaning house quietly and sadly, and I’m entertaining her boy, her baby, throwing him up in the air and catching him. It’s a poem about that. Sad and tender. A truly adult dream. Profound tenderness.
That’s what I like to write as poems. Not because it’s sad, but because it matters. So much poetry that’s written today doesn’t need to be written. I don’t understand the need for trickery or some new way of arranging words on a page. You’re allowed to do that. You’re allowed to write all kinds of poetry, but there’s a whole world out there.
INTERVIEWERIn 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”?
GILBERTI 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.