Finding a new poet is a bit like discovering an unreleased Hitchcock film or unknown Mozart score. If you like his or her style, point of view, ideas, imagery, great pleasure awaits you. And so I felt when I stumbled into the poet Jack Gilbert.
Having read a book of his poems, he’s not quite as consistently engaging as Mary Oliver or clever as Billy Collins or as thought-provoking as Wendell Berry, but he does hit the gold of a few great lines in many of his poems and generally does justice to the great themes of mortality, love, loss and more.
In the poem that first attracted my attention, Brief for the Defense,he opens with:
Sorrow everywhere. Slaughter everywhere. If babies are not starving someplace, they are starving somewhere else. With flies in their nostrils.
That’s a strong beginning that certainly gets you attention. And then the surprise of:
But we enjoy our lives because that’s what God wants.
And follows this idea later in the poem:
We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of the world. To make injustice the only measure of our attention is to praise the Devil. …we must admit there will be music despite everything…
Now that’s a worthy theme. The conversation between fixing the broken world and enjoying it, between saving it and savoring it. In fact, the very theme I invoked in my Blog description when I began this 9 years ago (worth a re-read off to the right). It could be easy to feel your gratitude for food on the table, a roof over your ahead, enough money to rent a vacation home in Palm Springs with a hot tub and pool as a kind of privilege in an unjust world, to make “injustice the only measure of our attention.” It would also be easy (for some—never has been for me) to take injustice off the table altogether and just concentrate on balancing your bio-rhythms and savoring your organic vegetables.
So to keep both balls up in the air and juggle them in your own particular way is one of the many difficult tasks we humans are charged with. Today it’s likely that I’ll sign some political petition on e-mail and then go off with the grandchildren into Joshua Tree State Park and exult in the blessing of silence and space and sun.