Franz Wright
Jenn Morea
Ted Pelton
Susan M. Schultz
Amanda Nadelberg
Standard Schaefer
Matthew Cooperman
Ed Taylor
Coralie Reed
Gretchen Mattox
Mark Rudman
Ales Debeljak
Simon Perchik
Bendall on Wagner
Schroeder on Mullen
Thompson on Gibson
Minor on Tran
Rippey on Hannah

Dobby Gibson, Polar. Alice James Books, 2005. 80 pp. $13.95.

Reviewed by L.B. Thompson

As its title suggests, Polar comes from the long cold winters of the poet's native Minnesota; the poems are thematically concerned with the polarities of one's imaginative and live-action existence. Winner of the Alice James Books Beatrice Hawley Award, Polar is a carefully crafted book, comprised of four coherent sections, united not only in their themes of existential, melting intransigence, but also by the strength of Gibson's undiluted voice. Although he has more than one trick up his sleeve, there is a pleasing consistency in the way Gibson crafts each line, as well as in the way one plainspoken short line follows another. His signature is the craftsmanlike progression of his clear images — the way that subtle assonance or internal rhyme leads the reader from one image to the next.

In "Gone Before," Gibson employs the words "dreams" and "dreamers" in close succession, preparing his readers for a disjunctive progression of images.  The long single stanza weaves disparate images together, encouraging readers to follow the music of the poem without pausing to puzzle over why one image follows another ("A little girl pulls her doll by its hair. / Inside the space capsule after splashdown / no one. / And not even a note. / The hospitals they have built / just for people like us to die in / are built entirely of corridors […]"). On closer reading, the connections between these stacked blocks of images becomes more visible, so that the close proximity of the images reveal the poem's thematic whole.

Snowflakes appear on every page — even on the cover and on the pages that divide the book's four sections. While there is no doubt that Minnesota snow has many varieties of metaphorical resonance, Gibson's poem demonstrate that there is much power in the literal stuff itself. The persistent presence of snow hooks the readers into a music of the north: blues lyrics and love songs full of the weather define the patterns of life. This passage from "Solstice," the thirteen-part series in the middle of the book, reveals this need: "where what snow falls throws out backs, / where darkness is used only to fill // our empty parking lots with sorrow…" The tenor of Gibson's snow metaphors is often sadness. Another image playfully addresses itself to sorrow: "Sadness, you are so Japanese: snow on just one side of the leaf / that has not yet dropped." In these poems, Gibson employs a kind of divorced couplet, dividing lines and images from their seemingly natural counterparts.

The third section of Polar returns to the singular long stanza form; some of these poems are more cohesive than earlier work in the book, without losing the surprise of associative and musical play. This is particularly true of "Encroachment," a poem that highlights some of the book's major themes ("It is November again. / The leaves are falling, / and then, as if that weren't enough, / the rain is, too. / True to its mission, / the cold makes us feel old. / Over what we were / And never finally are. / What we saved and hoped for, / what we found and whom we never will."). "Encroachment" has the intimate feeling of a painting an artist agrees to display, but insists is not for sale.

In the final section, a longer poem called "Great Plain" is a paean to the Mississippi river with its opposite banks, and the bridges we've built to cross it. Gibson sees a struggle in that mighty river, and those currents contribute to the polarities he articulates throughout the book: "These two coasts — / can we call them that? — / grinding at one another over / everything we'll never know, like one of those arguments,  years after which we realize /  both of us were right."

Throughout Polar, Gibson makes his peace with this brevity; with the ephemera he believes our lives and our art to be. Poem VIII in the "Solstice" series concludes: "destination rising in speech as unprovoked / as it is delivered to the silences of the indifferent." This reader hopes that these poems will not be delivered to the silence of the indifferent, rather that they will become the blues riffs of the cold and snowbound, be they shivering in their geography or with the emotional fragility of one of Gibson's snow crystals.

L.B. Thompson's chapbook Tendered Notes was published by the Center for Book Arts in 2003.



(c) 2005 Slope. Slope is ISSN # 1536-0164.