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Jack Gilbert; blunt, award-winning poet eschewed fame; at 87

JACK GILBERT

Robert Toby/N.Y. Times

JACK GILBERT

NEW YORK — Jack Gilbert, a poet whose frank, forthright, emotionally fraught works observed the universal realities of love and death from a perspective off the literary grid, died Tuesday at 87 in Berkeley, Calif.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, said Henry Lyman, a friend whorented a room to Mr. Gilbert for many years in his house in Northampton, Mass. His publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, said he had Alzheimer’s disease.

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Mr. Gilbert, who grew up in Pittsburgh and won the Yale Younger Poets Prize in 1962 for his first book, ‘‘Views of Jeopardy,’’ and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2005 for his fourth, ‘‘Refusing Heaven,’’ was a peculiar figure in the contemporary poetry world in the sense that he was not exactly in it. A restless man who traveled often, lived frugally, and occasionally lectured or taught to support himself, he spoke and wrote with enthusiasm about life in the world, without failing to acknowledge its miseries.

Famous for eschewing fame, he did not go to conferences or cocktail parties, gave readings sporadically, and did not publish a great deal. His output during a half-century included a mere five slim volumes.

With their blunt-force assertions, their challenging irony, their earthy sexuality, and their embrace of life as a big, messy possibility, his poems were for many readers both serious and accessible, connecting to their feelings of having to endure in an often cruel, unfair world.

Mr. Gilbert leaves no immediate survivors.

His last collection of poems, ‘‘The Dance Most of All,’’ was published in 2010.

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