Jack Gilbert Biography


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Jack Gilbert was born in Pittsburgh on February 17, 1925, the son of James Gilbert and Della Gilbert. His father died when he was ten years old. Gilbert failed high school and was forced to leave, so he found work fumigating houses, in the steel mills, and as a door-to-door salesperson. He served in the U.S. Army during World War II. He was always a voracious reader, and when he was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh through a clerical error, he began writing poetry. He earned a B.A. in 1947 and spent the next few years traveling in France and Italy, where he fell in love with Gianna Gelmetti, one of the great loves of his life and the subject of some of his poems.

By the early 1950’s, Gilbert was in San Francisco, studying and writing at San Francisco State University (where he earned an M.A. in 1962) and playing a part in the thriving Beat poetry scene, befriending such poets as Kenneth Rexroth and Allen Ginsberg. In 1962, Gilbert’s first collection, Views of Jeopardy, won the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition, and at the age of thirty-seven, he became a celebrity poet, a rising star giving readings and being honored at dinners and photographed by Vogue and Glamour magazines.

Gilbert enjoyed the limelight for a short time, but he felt that his real work was living and writing poetry. He would not publish again for twenty years. In 1964, he won a Guggenheim Fellowship and left for Greece with his...

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