Saturday, March 20, 2004
On February 21, 2004 I received an email message - "Delivery Status
Notification (Failure)." The subject line of the email had been "Are you
there?" I did not know that Gil was gone. Our correspondence had fallen
silent over the past year due to personal hardships on my end, and now that
I know, Gil's deteriorating health during that same period. Upon receiving
the failed email, and thinking that Gil's address had changed, I contacted
Ammiel Alcalay who informed me, very sadly, of Gil's passing. I told Ammiel
that I didn't know why but of late I had a strange feeling regarding Gil.
We'd exchanged correspondence following the publication of Gil's ~Pact~, and
he had written the nicest letter I'd received on my book ~Ashoka~. He sent
"The Fire," and I had followed-up by requesting more of his fiction/short
stories for publication in ~Crayon~. I was then consumed by an 8-month long
job hunt and had figured that Gil too was simply too busy to keep up. And I
guess that was true. He had mentioned but certainly not complained much
regarding his health. I last saw Gil at the Kelly Writer's House at a
benefit May 2001 for the Fernando Pessoa issue of ~Crayon~.
Gil's ~Paper Air~ magazine, upon my arrival in NYC at the beginning of the
80's, was the first poetry journal that I remember having made an impact on
an impressionable and skeptical mind. I found ~Paper Air~, I believe it was
the Mac Low issue, at the Gotham Book Mart. It was with that discovery that
I began to feel it was possible to be at home in this hyper, overwhelmingly
interesting and strange new world.
In my last letter to Gil, February 2003, I wrote the following regarding his
astonishing book of stories, ~Pact~:
"One of the reasons I haven't written you earlier about Pact is that I didn'
t want to finish reading the book. I think it's one of the freshest, most
intelligent, emotionally rich and honest works, poetry or fiction that I've
read in years. I wanted the experience of reading the book to last as long
as possible - it really has sustained a place in my life that's kept my hope
and imagination alive. I appreciate that you've sent me the review of the
book, but I haven't read it yet as I didn't want the review to color what I
wanted to tell you. One of the few authors I can think of that has amazed me
in some way similar to the way Pact has is the Mexican writer Juan Rulfo. I
like the way you manage to take me through parallel universes, life and
death, in a way that feels real, like I could walk there. And some of the
stories - I'm remembering the trailer party scene where something violent
has occurred but the protagonist is so fucked up he can't realize what he's
been involved with - reminded me of a world I was once too close to back in
rural Indiana. I remember some weird trailer party situations - I've got one
or two stories I should tell you sometime. I also was mighty impressed how
you could pack such a diversity of tales between the covers of Pact and
rather than read like a mere collection of stories the book succeeds in
creating a coherence that's unshakeable. You've written a hell of a great
book and I've been so happy reading it. You have a great sense of humor,
often revealed through the unpredictable turns your fictions make - turns
that feel earned and motivated, immediately distinguishing Pact from most of
the experimental fiction I've seen."
Gil was a great editor, and poet. I don't know how many people appreciated
that he had also become a GREAT fiction writer, an equal in many ways among
the heavy company of Bernhard, Blanchot, Kafka, Lispector, O'Connor, and
Rulfo. I do not know if Gil read the last letter I sent him - I hope he did,
that he may have read my compliments and enjoyed them. The fictions in
~Pact~ allow one to put together one's own story, or stories. A word that
Gil had expressed some admiration for in ~Ashoka~ I think accurate to what
his storytelling accomplished - it presented a world "compenetrate" with
love and nightmarish pain and trauma. I have not known another writer who
embraced more profoundly, in his fiction/poetry and in his person, this
polarity of human existence.
What I remember from my last visit to the Kelly Writer's House, following
upon Chris Daniel's conjuring via his translation and performance of Pessoa'
s heteronym poetry, was someone so elated by the Word, so deeply in love
with poetry that for a brief time he was no longer weighed down by his body.
Gil sprung forward and threw his arms about Chris almost lifting him off his
feet. Gil's unbridled and unreserved enthusiasm for the miraculous gift
poetry can deliver lifted everyone in the audience that night out of their
chairs. Gil was a very lovely man. It is very upsetting and sad news.
I send my love to Julia, and Gil's daughter, Willa.