Sunday, January 15, 2006

Somerville Poet Rebecca Kaiser Gibson: A Shy Woman Who Is Passionate About Poetry.

Rebecca Kaiser Gibson may describe herself as basically a shy person, but there is no paucity of words when she describes her passion for the arts. I first became aware of Gibson through an article in that “other” paper in town. Later while I was scribbling at a local bagel shop in Porter Square, I noticed her scribbling there as well. Our paths crossed again recently, and I invited her to join me on my Somerville Community Access TV show ‘Poet to Poet/Writer to Writer.”

Gibson is a lecturer in poetry at Tufts University, and has an eclectic background in both theatre and poetry. Her work has appeared in such publications as “Northwest Review,” “Field,” “Harvard Review,” and others. She has also been a managing director of the “New Voices Theatre Company,” in Boston, and assistant to Tina Packer, the artistic director of the “Boston Shakespeare Company.” She has an M.A. from the “Boston University Creative Writing Program.”

Doug Holder: I notice as a poetry editor, I get a lot of poetry about coffee shops, or experiences in them. You wrote a poem titled: “Dunkin’ Donuts. Somerville, Mass..” What is it about these places that spawn poets, poems, etc… And what’s your favorite java joint in the “Ville?

Rebecca Kaiser Gibson: With the donut poem, I didn’t actually sit there , in a Dunkin’ Donuts. It was really a poem about class. I had moved from Newton to Somerville. I felt I had a much wider range of what I could see and understand in Somerville, as opposed to the city of Newton, where I moved from.

My favorite coffee shop these days is the “Au Bon Pain,” in Davis square. Coffee shops create an atmosphere of things going on that you don’t have to do anything about. There is a low-grade noise that you aren’t responsible for, yet it seeps into your work. If fills a space that might be too empty if you are all alone. It’s kind of a friendly drone.

I find lately that I can’t work at coffee shops any more. I work at home alone now.

DH: You have four degrees in Creative Writing, Teaching Theatre, English Literature, and Theatre Arts. Did you like the life of a student? Do you still have a student’s sensibility?

RKG: I’m now longer student. But I am still a library person. I like to research. I am much happier doing that than almost anything else.

I hated being a student, until I went to Boston University to study Creative Writing. I was very shy, and I couldn’t talk in class. Being in the poetry program was my best experience.

DH: Now you are a teacher. You have to get up in front of a whole class.

RKG: For some reason that’s really easy. After the Creative Writing degree I could suddenly talk for some reason. I think because I was surrounded by people who understood me, and I understood them. I care a lot about what students are thinking. I feel like we are connected by some strange truth. It’s just fun.

DH: Can you tell us about your experience at the world-renowned Boston University Creative Writing Program where you earned your M.A.?

RKG: The way I got into it was bizarre. I was at the train station waiting to go to Concord when I saw the former Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky, who teaches at B.U. I really didn’t know much about him at the time. I said to him:” You are a poet aren’t you? Can I send you some stuff?” I was fearless and na├»ve. He( thank heaven) read it, and invited me to sit in on the program. I was a secretary at MIT at the time. I would go to MIT at 7 AM, then go to class, and then back to MIT. He suggested I apply for the program. I was there for a year and a half…a year as an official student. For me it felt like magic. Pinsky’s integrity about poems really having to be about something was an influence on me. I studied with Derek Walcott, the Nobel Prize Winner. It was wonderful.

DH: You have an extensive background in the theatre. How do you incorporate that into your poetry?

RKG: I was essentially a director of theatre. Actors make physical something that is on the page. I think this “physicality” is what appeals to me in both.
DH: As a poet, who is your favorite playwright?

RKG: I was heading towards saying Harold Pinter as my favorite playwright. Samuel Beckett is the other one.

DH: You have read at the “Bay State Correctional Facility” How did you get involved with this and what was the experience like?

RKG: I got involved through B.U. I read “Dunkin’ Donuts…” there. It was a strange experience. I was outside, inside and outside again. I felt disconnected. But they were a very interested audience.

DH: Close observation is an important tool for poetry. How do you focus in a world of distractions?

RKG:. When I write poetry, I’m not exactly focusing, it’s just coming in. I don’t know where it comes from.

DH: You have been a resident in a number of prestigious writers retreats like the “MacDowell Colony,” and “Bread Loaf.” Do these settings foster good work?

RKG: At “MacDowell,” I lived in the cottage where the composer Aaron Copeland stayed. It was a little too quiet for me. I had to get out to meet people. I love being in the mountains but I still neede the company of other people. This environment fostered some good work for me. “MacDowell” is a deeply supportive place for artists.

“”Bread Loaf,” is very social. You have conferences; you talk to people, etc…

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