Two poets who I’ve found personally very influential, both in my own poetry writing and in my life in general, are Linda Gregg and Jack Gilbert. They are two separate poets and yet it often seems that their poetry has been interconnected and intertwined, over decades. In reading them one sometimes gets the sense that they might be carrying on a subtle poetic dialogue with each other.

I first discovered Linda Gregg by chance in the late 90s when I came across a copy of her book The Sacraments of Desire in the Cornell University bookstore. Impulsively I bought it, not knowing anything about the author. I had only recently developed a serious interest in poetry writing myself. This book turned out to be enthralling. I was quite taken with the mysterious, smoky depths of Gregg’s poetry. The poems had a clear, pure limpid quality on the surface but a sense of great, intense, and complex emotional depths underneath. The poems seemed to invite the reader to a more intimate and intense experience of life. It’s a book that greatly influenced my whole way of thinking, not only about poetry and its aesthetic purposes, but about my approach to my own life experience. I started reading everything I could find by Gregg.

Some years later I heard about Jack Gilbert’s book The Great Fires and it sounded intriguing. I read it and found it to be fascinating and intense. I noticed some stylistic similarities with Gregg’s poetry. I learned later that Jack Gilbert had been Linda Gregg’s teacher when she was working on her master’s degree, and that they became lovers and traveled the world together for many years, living in poverty and having adventures.

Some critics and readers have criticized, unfairly in my opinion, Linda Gregg for appropriating Jack Gilbert’s style. There are superficial similarities between their poetic styles but Linda Gregg definitely has her own unique poetic voice. Most critics seem to think that Gilbert is the better poet (and Linda Gregg herself has referred to Gilbert as her “poetry mentor”) although I tend to disagree. Jack Gilbert was an excellent poet but I detect, in many of his poems, a quality of pomposity that I don’t see in Linda Gregg’s poetry. Her work seems to me more fresh and direct.

I had the pleasure of meeting Linda Gregg at a reading at LeMoyne College in 2000. I chatted with her a bit and she impressed me as being a very gracious person with an unusually alert and sensitive mind. I wanted to tell her that her poetry had changed my life, which would have been true, but I’m sure such a declaration would have been an embarrassment to both of us. Instead I made a somewhat more restrained comment of appreciation, I don’t remember exactly what it was but I think it was probably rather lame.