The poet Timothy Liu, a longtime friend, said the cause was cancer.
Gregg found poems in nature, in urban settings like a shelter for homeless women, in broken relationships. “The Night Before Leaving,” from her 1985 collection, “Alma,” was about the end of an affair:
We surface in a kind of dream.
The boat touches ground.
Grinds onto the rocks.
We get out,
And it floats again.
Gregg did not publish her first collection, “Too Bright to See” (1981), until she was almost 40. But once she did, she drew quick attention in poetry circles.
“The poems are stunning, taken singly, but the book is much more than the sum of its parts,” Ann W. Fisher wrote in The Chicago Review. “‘Too Bright to See’ is a spiritual autobiography, a search for the ground of being and for a condition of wholeness within the shards of time.”
Some of the poems in that volume allude to Gregg’s long relationship with poet Jack Gilbert, with whom she spent several years living in Greece and Denmark in the 1960s, often in spartan circumstances. The two remained friends after their romantic relationship ended; Liu said Gregg served as Gilbert’s literary executor after his death in 2012.
Six other collections followed “Too Bright to See,” including “Alma” in 1985, “Chosen by the Lion” in 1994 and, most recently, “All of It Singing: New and Selected Poems” in 2008.
“What strikes me as remarkable about Linda Gregg’s poems is her ability to use the seen world as a gateway to the richness of the inner life,” Tracy K. Smith, the poet laureate of the United States, who studied with her as a graduate student at Columbia University, said by email. “The concrete terms anchoring her poems often come from the natural world: from the idyllic Northern California of her youth, and the Greek islands where she lived for some years. And the inner realm that her poems make me mindful of always feels at once deeply human and quite nearly sacred.”
Linda Alouise Gregg was born on Sept. 9, 1942, in Suffern, New York. Her father, Harold, was an architect and arts educator, and her mother, Frances (Rundall) Gregg, was a teacher. She grew up in Marin County, California, with nature all around.
“When I was a child I lived on 1,000 acres in West Marin with 27 horses,” she said in a 2015 talk at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival in Florida, “and I was alone a lot of the time. And I started reading.”
She figured out early that four things were important to her. “It was nature, the sacred, love and poetry — those were the four things,” she told the audience. She was particularly struck, she later said, by the poetry of Federico García Lorca and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
“There is a luminosity in those poems of Lorca and Hopkins,” she wrote in an essay, “The Art of Finding,” “and for me ever since when I see such luminosity beginning in a poem, it is a sign that something significant has been found.
“It may be that the major art in poetry is the art of finding this shining — this luminosity,” she continued. “It is the difference between a publishable poem and one that matters.”
She enrolled at San Francisco State College (now University) in the early 1960s and met Gilbert, who was teaching there. After she graduated in 1967, they went to Europe.
“Their romance (some would call it an unofficial marriage) lasted eight years,” Liu wrote in a tribute on the website Literary Hub, “and turned into a lifelong friendship between poetic equals.”
Gregg later married John Brentlinger; they divorced in 1990. She is survived by three sisters, Chloe MacDonald, Susan Conard and Louise Belinda Gregg (who is her twin).
After her travels with Gilbert, she returned to the United States and received a master’s degree at San Francisco State in 1972. She also began contributing poems to journals, magazines and anthologies, leading to her first collection.
Reviewing “Alma,” her second collection, in The New York Times in 1986, J.D. McClatchy praised Gregg’s economy of language and imagery.
“When he created his ballet ‘Apollo,’ George Balanchine said, the discipline and restraint of Stravinsky’s score had let him ‘dare not to use everything,’” McClatchy wrote. “Miss Gregg has also learned what to leave out of her poems.”
Though many of her works were about matters of the heart, she could also take a hard look at hard problems, as she did in a poem in the “Alma” collection, “Lies and Longing,” about homeless women in a New York shelter:
One asks for any kind of medicine.
One says she has a rock that means honor
and a piece of fur.
One woman’s feet are wrapped in rags.
One keeps talking about how fat she is
so nobody will know she’s pregnant.
They lie about getting letters.
One lies about a beautiful dead man.
One lies about Denver. Outside
it’s Thirtieth Street and hot and no sun.
“When her poems hit their sweet spot,” the poet Tony Hoagland wrote in his book “Twenty Poems That Could Save America and Other Essays” (2014), “they strike a note that is both tragic and relevant; they display an acceptance of fate that seems clean and valuable as a reference point, as well as elegant in language. The directness of such work enlarges our perspective, makes us more honest, and perhaps even more willing to encounter our own experience at a new depth.”
Over the years Gregg, who had lived in Manhattan since 2006, taught poetry at Columbia, the University of Iowa, Princeton and other institutions. Her many honors included the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry and the Jackson Poetry Prize.
One of her poems, “The Color of Many Deer Running,” from her 1991 collection, “The Sacraments of Desire,” was reprinted in “Imaginary Animals,” an anthology for children edited by Charles Sullivan that paired poems with notable artworks. Its artistic companion was the Winslow Homer painting “Deer Drinking.” The poem, whose narrator is watching deer on a hill, concludes this way:
The young deer were playing as the old ate
or guarded. Then all were gone, leaping.
Except one looking down from the top.
The ending made me glad. I turned toward
the red sky and ran back down to the farm,
the man, the woman, and the young calves.
Thinking that as I grow older I will lose
my color. Will turn tan and gray like the deer.
Not one deer, but when many of them run away.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.