There most likely aren’t too many titles by the late Vancouver poet and publisher Gerry Gilbert (April 7, 1936 – June 19, 2009) in print anymore, with the exception possibly of the chapbook PERHAPS (Toronto ON: BookThug, 1999) and the reissued Moby Jane (Toronto ON: Coach House Books, 2004), but the enthusiasm for his work appears to have steadily increased over the past few years. Since Gilbert died, a tribute blog appeared, with regular updates, and there are more references to him online that one might think, for an author who barely published through trade form over his last two decades. Now, thanks to Vancouver poets Lary Bremner (publisher of Obvious Epiphanies Press), Carol and Jamie Reid, who went through Gilbert’s archive, we now have access to his COUNTERFEIT PENNIES (North Vancouver BC: obvious epiphanies press, 2012) as a free pdf download.
During the early 60’s in Vancouver, Gerry Gilbert was part of an informal grouping of “downtown Vancouver poets” with John Newlove, Judith Copithorne, Maxine Gadd and Roy Kiyooka, less a group than a ying to the yang of TISH. With a healthy distrust of editors and (seemingly) publisher, Gilbert’s expansive ouvre appeared in trade form with great effort, as he infamously refused to have his work edited. He even turned down the opportunity to be in a series of selected poems that Talonbooks produced around 1980 (others in the series included bpNichol, Daphne Marlatt and Fred Wah). As Frank Davey wrote about Gilbert in From There to Here (Erin ON: Press Porcepic, 1974):
Gilbert’s experimental world is that of most men alive in these decades, mundane, trivial, thoroughly non-spectacular – enriched only by the easily missed miracles of animals, plants, the weather, or intimate human gesture. He presents this world in the way in which it impinges on him: a puzzingly discontinuous flow of broken images. “AND”, the title of one of his books, is the usual Gilbert conjunction, since it implies no logical structure or relationship. To Gilbert, experience is endless non sequitur.
As Davey suggests, Gilbert’s writing was an endless, singular line of ephemera, miracles and “intimate human gesture,” documenting the entirety of what he saw, felt and did, taking the Frank O’Hara “I did this, I did that” poem to its extreme. Dated 1996 to 1997, Gilbert’s COUNTERFEIT PENNIES is wonderfully reproduced exactly the way the author intended, scanning directly from the mass of binders that filled his small apartment. There is the strangest kind of detail in Gilbert’s work, knowing that his work was composed of a single, straight, life-long line, one that readers only saw in the comparatively briefest parcels.
The way he said it to me, that I didn’t remember but we’d met years ago, put me on the defensive right away, smelling trouble. He got my number alright. I’m so beat I can barely play along enough to read the paper; or want what I really want; or really want what I want. As my voice gets fainter, I pile on the wisdom; bore ; ing. If you know what this means, you must have read it already.
There aren’t many copies of Gerry Gilbert works available out in the world anymore, but I’m sure if you want to read further of his works, I’d recommend jwcurry’s Room 302 Books in Ottawa as the best place to begin.