Music Features

On the poet Robert Gibbons

I met the American poet Robert Gibbons at a conference in Stirling, Scotland, last summer. Over a bottle or possibly several of wine we discussed, occasionally argued, the value of metaphor, the relationship between poetry and the body, Argentine writers and, of course, the joys of wine. In person, it is Gibbons' energy and intensity that captivates: he is the most passionate advocate of poetry I have met, and as one who earns a living mostly talking and writing about poetry, I cannot but value this all too rare quality.

The next day I attended his reading. On Bastille Day Gibbons read a selection of poems that touched, in particular, on the relationship between poetry and politics, the subject of the conference's main debates. Reading his works, Gibbons' voice, firm and sonorous, dropped occasionally to a whisper; during a piece that spoke of the 11 September tragedies, he stopped as if overcome. An audience was captivated, electrified forward in our seats.

Since then we have maintained regular contact; he has been sending me his poems from the collection Body of Time as emails, and I've been privileged to start so many days in contact with the force of his works. Gibbons writes mostly prose poems, often relatively short, that demand the greatest of attention to the words on the page and the world around them. Those poems that look at the world force the reader to do so as well, with an intensity that is all too rare these days. Other pieces focus on dreams, going beyond the surrealist interest in the unconscious to an analysis of the ways our bodies sense and order what is around us.

His work is also eminently literary but in a personal, vibrant fashion: a librarian, Gibbons enters into a living dialogue with German writers such as Rilke, Nietzsche, other Americans including Olson, and the classics, particularly Homer. His work suggests a man able to interrogate the greats, and following his intertexts is a poetic education itself.

The other theme in Gibbons' work is time: how time works on the body, how it works on the world, and how we sense it, physically, as part of our being. As, such, the rhizomatic presentation of his pieces on the web at the Irish website DeadDrunkDublin, alongside hermetic yet beautiful photographs by Syrie Kovitz, creates a different experience, more leisurely and diffuse than the blood-quickening effect of the individual poems. For Gibbons, poetry is as much made of blood and viscera as the body itself. Feel it.