Saturday, December 31, 2011
By Robert Gibbons
Nine Point Publishing
Reviewed by Dennis Daly
As I read through Robert Gibbons’ lengthy book of prose poems, This Time, I felt transported from page to page, not in the usual bookish way, but architecturally. The poems have the feel of lived-in rooms, each decorative item and essential furnishing intimately connected to its neighboring artifact in some sensory or psychological way.
There is an old story told about Simonides, the ancient Greek poet and verse innovator. While attending a drunken party with friends, relatives and a multitude of invited guests, he had to leave for a moment. After he had exited the party, a freak storm hit the building and demolished it. By the time the victims had been uncovered their bodies were unrecognizable even to family members. Simonides, however, identified them all. They had been forever ordered in his poetic memory and all that was left for him to do was recite.
Gibbons is the Simonides of the prose poem. He has revolutionized the form and made it into something new and wonderful. His poetics populate the kitchens, the dens, the bedrooms, the halls, and the balconies of a grand internal palace, a palace haunted by poltergeists and other phenomena, both real and fictive.
Once inside his palace, Gibbons’ mind works fast. Some of his pieces are densely packed, some would argue over packed with detail. In fact in his first short poem, Silence’s Desire, he seems to be admonishing himself,
There is that silence which has at its sole desire language, music,
primal cry! There is that silence whose immensity rests upon Soul’s
desire, language, music, primal cry! Quiet down now.
In Vortex of Inclusion, Gibbons’ art leaps from Debussy’s La Mer to the local waterfront, which seems to give him worldwide connections, to a Mallarmè letter,
… Mallarmè writes in 1885 that the present is an
“interregnum,” an obsolescence with which the poet has no business
getting involved. Advises writing “mysteriously,” thinking only of
the future, or no Time at all.
Dreams proliferate in Gibbons’ poems. Since dreams do not conform to the rules of traditional time, they fit right into the design features. The Geography of Dreams ends this way,
… Hurried from my station at
the circulation desk to write down the dream of waves in the bay in
Zihuatanejo, standing on top of the world in Boston, brushing past
Death with an “Excuse me,” & all the geography enclosed in the atlas,
when suddenly my father came by asking if he could cook supper for
me, peering over my shoulder interested in what I’d already written
A good number of poems at the heart of the book are meditations on Goya or paintings by Goya. Especially interesting in this dream context is a piece called Goya’s Etching, Murio La Verdad (Truth Has Died). The poem leads into narrative explanation of the book’s cover with this,
Unusual, insistent dream, consisting of words alone: the image
of black letters falling down against white space, as if vortex, or
river, & led, strange as it seems, by the Spanish word obra, or work.
Perhaps “uncanny.” But I think not so much in these poems, where images, numbers, and names collide in a timeless museum of movement.
This Goya theme is beautifully alluded to by the book’s gorgeous cover. Referring, of course to Ernest Hemingway the narrator comments with rising pleasure in Goya’s Passionate Introduction,
… I never bothered with Death in the Afternoon, until now. He refers
to Goya by page 3. Makes the art and knowledge of drinking wine
analogous to the art & knowledge of bullfighting by page 10. Goya
wine & the printed word, what more, (other than friend or woman), can
a man want at this stage?
Goya’s use of the moment coincides with Gibbons concept of no time. The poem Time = Goya explains:
Time went nowhere away from Goya at the hora de la verdad, or
moment of Truth, when Death enters the ring for the kill. For Goya
used to such ajustarse, or close infighting, & having fully encompassed
it, Time remained right there in his heart, eyes, and hands. Whereas,
even today, time embodies Goya; Time frees Goya; Time is Goya.
In Salem Came Back To Me Before I Came Back To Salem Gibbons deals with the non- chronology of his home town. Again he seems to be reciting or interpreting this interior architecture. These intimate and memorized details come to him not in a dream but in the next best thing, an insomniac’s trance. He says,
… during a brutal two hour bout with insomnia images
arrived, not chronologically, but a montage of streets and workplaces,
people and events, transient & permanent. I’ll document it as between
Notice that Gibbons is straining to reconcile his artistic vision with reality and often they don’t correspond exactly; nor should they. Further on in the poem the same thing happens,
… working at Met-Com on Derby, the library on Lafayette,
or cataloguing the broadside collection at the museum on Essex. I
can’t reorder their non-chronological sequence, but driving down
Boston Street one might see, as I did again, those neighborhood
toughs Tarqui, or Pelletier, while Snowy and his crew emerged from
the woodwork of the Willows’ neon arcades.
Doors and Windows, a poem toward the end of the book uses internal language to convey poetic constructs of understanding,
.. Earlier this week I saw a storm
door standing vertical-upright leaning against two wooden horses,
ready for planning and shellac, the three small glass windows reminding
me of the one I carted in from the back parking lot of the apartment
building off of Porter Square in Cambridge
Storm doors or not, the entrances into these magnificent palace rooms invite all in to view the poet’s timeless creations.
I’ve seen most of Robert Gibbons’ other books. They are studied and delightful. However this book goes well beyond his other accomplishments. It is his master work, his mature opus not to be missed.