Robert Gibbons, Animated Landscape, BlazeVox, 2016, 146 pp, $16.
Speaking recently at the Gloucester Writers Center, poet and Olson scholar Don Byrd advised poets who are inspired by Charles Olson not to attempt to follow him because Olson was uniquely unfollowable. Rather, Byrd said, they should attempt to move beyond Olson with their own work, as the poet himself had done with respect to his own masters, Pound and Williams.
Among poets who have learned from Olson while forging their own unique path, Robert Gibbons stands out. Though widely published and admired among poets, scholars of poetry, critics, and curators of contemporary art, Robert Gibbons has been less known to discerning readers of new American poetry. This is about to change with the publication by BlazeVox of Animated Landscape, Gibbons’s major new collection of poems. Those who care about the life of poetry in a time when there are many MFAs in verse but fewer poets who appeal directly to the human condition should attend to what Richard Deming calls Gibbons’s “universal and inclusive vision.”
Gibbons’ poetry is informed not only by the crucial texts he’s read and internalized—Kristeva, Davenport, Olson himself— but also by the music and visual art that has animated his life and work—the jazz of Coltrane, the inventions of Bach, the paintings of Clyfford Still (about whom he has written incisively in Olson/Still: Crossroad)—along with the walks he has taken daily in the places he’s lived—Gloucester, MA, Salem, Washington, DC, Boston, Portland, ME, and now Denver—bringing them to life and into his pages through conversations with those he has encountered going about their daily business, as Gibbons has gone about his as both secret sharer and astute observer. His is a poetry that is as intensely lived as it is informed by a poised intelligence; a poetry of the heart and mind, where intellect and feeling do not conflict but, instead, fuse into incandescence, as Gibbons writes: “where senses reach an/intoxicated height, where air alone is/magic, silence music, touch between/us dispelling all dread.”
In his comments on the book’s jacket Richard Deming observes equally that Gibbons “carries Olson’s excavations into the present tense…in his own measure of music, personal and specific, yet universal and inclusive.” Thus Gibbons has lent important credence to Don Byrd’s advice to move beyond Olson, while, at the same time, paying homage to his teacher, as Olson did to his:
No, not surprising to find
Olson equating the cave with our own
internal “maze,” our bodies with geography.
say kidneys as sea, or spine as mountain range,
brain as Arctic, coccyx Antarctic, heart solar system,
lung valley of breath, preferring stone, wood clay to iron,
brick, steel, glass, copper, or plastic, those basics to any manmade
transformation, & feeling inside himself there in the cave, or geography,
creatures that came before us,
horses rearing up.
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Read Ten Poems by Robert Gibbons: