Jack Gilbert

Refusing Heaven - Jack GilbertI read a wide variety of genres – literary fiction, historical fiction, mystery, fantasy (lots of fantasy, these days), romance, and tons of YA. While I am reading a novel, I develop an intense connection to the characters. They populate my mind. If I move from one story to the next too quickly, my vampires get all mixed up with my Tudors. Though that does sound like fun, it gets confusing. When I read dissimilar books back-to-back (which I often do), it sometimes feels a little like my brain is eating chunks of German chocolate cake dunked in Thai fish soup. Certain combinations just don’t work.

I’ve found that if, between novels, I read essays, articles, non-fiction, and poetry it helps to clear my mind and ready it for the next foray into fiction. Sometimes I do this for one afternoon, and sometimes for a few days at at time. I do this to give my mind a break from fictional characters (with all their drama!) and to give myself a chance to catch up on sleep. As much as I enjoy a good essay, I’ve never felt compelled to stay up all night to finish one.

Jack Gilbert’s collection of poetry Refusing Heaven has lived on my nightstand for years. I read it when I am in between books. I read it when I want to meditate on how lovely language can be. After so many readings, the poems really are like a meditation to me, or a prayer. Many pages are dog-eared, and these are the poems I return to most often, such as this poem, entitled “Say You Love Me:”

Are the angels of her bed the angels
who come near me alone in mine?
Are the green trees in her window
the color I see in ripe plums?
If she always sees backward
and upside down without knowing it
what chance do we have? I am haunted
by the feeling that she is saying
melting lords of death, avalanches,
rivers and moments of passing through.
And I am replying, “Yes, yes.
Shoes and pudding.”

Okay, I might have a bit of a crush on JG. I heard him interviewed on NPR several years ago. He spoke of life, work, and romance. The way he spoke of love with his gravel voice, I imagined that’s what his voice would sound like, waking up in bed with a lover on a rainy afternoon. It’s not that I fantasized about him. It’s just that I think his voice – full of cracks and breaks – permanently sounds the way it would whispering sweet nothings while the rain taps the window.

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