The Dance Most of All

book by Jack Gilbert

annotation by Stephanie Glazier

I’ve always been slightly vexed, particularly so coming out of the Translation Seminar, by non-English speaking (writing) poets’ vagueness. Latin American writers especially can speak of “the grief of lovers,” as Gilbert does in his poem, “Infectious,” and I’m affected by that. It’s charm works on me. (Gilbert is writing about an experience he had in Italy. I understand that he’s spend the last few decades in Greece.) This has bewildered me so because it’s precisely the opposite advice one receives in a writing workshop—specificity, concrete, clear images, the young poet is told. Today, it seems to me that one reason that foreign poets ‘get away’ with speaking generally, especially about emotion, is that other cultures are more concerned (and this is evident in the semantics of other languages) with the collective identity and experience. American poetry is much more interested in the particularity of identity and experience—individualism. It’s a matter of readership. Reading work in translation, I’m convinced by such generalities because they’re voracious to the experience of that poet’s cultural context and to her ideal reader.

The last poem in the collection, titled “We are the Junction,” employs one of Gilbert’s principal tricks—really weird syntax. Jenny Factor recently submitted to me the fact that each time I read a new arrangement of words, each time I’m surprised by syntax, a new synapse forms in my brain. When I read Gilbert and Matthea Harvey’s work—I have this feeling of being washed over. “When body touches heart/ they together are the moon/ in the silently falling snow/ over there” (56).  So much so that when I read this, when he tells me that our whole beings are the only vehicles we have to understanding, I believe him because he’s telling me in a way I’ve not heard it before: “Which is truth/ exceeding, is the residence,/ the sanctified, is the secret/ closet and passes into glory.”

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