Pudding House Publications publishes an invitational series of the “hottest contemporary poetry” and one of the Valley’s own, Virginia Gilbert, (well, she is originally from Illinois) has made the short list. She is also the director of A&M’s Creative Writing program. To those that already know her work, Greatest Hits is a must-have. To those who do not know her poetry, it is a welcome surprise.
Gilbert’s earlier poetry is a wonderful representation of the soul of a generation. As a “baby boomer” and a member of the Peace Corps, she lived through the Cold War and the threat of nuclear attack and was obviously concerned with timely issues. But her work is also personal. This collection of poetry takes us to places as disparate as Korea and the Arizona. Other poems, such as “Finding You” and “The $20 Poem: Feeling the Blues” explore a writer’s romance with writing and a daughter’s memory of an imperfect father.
Gilbert writes with a deft, contemplative hand and a style that, while acknowledging the trends of the day, is more interested in an honest record of fleeting things. Occasionally, her lines can shock us, as in “Finding You”: “I would leash you by your necktie/to my throat if I thought it/would do any good” (14). But her lines also convey specific imagery that can remind us of the powerful beauty of specific times and places: “…I have punched my way through the stacks of hay/tented in fields in the October wind” (15).
Greatest Hits, while brief, gives the reader a glimpse into the range of Gilbert’s talents and a productive, thirty-year span of writing. While her earlier works spring from a baby boomer consciousness, her poetry is universal and contains startling nuggets of memory and wisdom for every reader.