Roofs, Voices, Roads (Reginald Gibbons, QRL 1978)

The fourth poet in my exploration of volume 21 of the Quarterly Review of Literature is Reginald Gibbons, another well-published author, but unlike Burrows still alive and writing — he has, in fact, a book on poetry coming out this autumn, How Poems Think. I am delighted to discover his work; the poems in his 1978 collection Roofs, Voices, Roads are very alive for me, strong and structured, I may look at them from different angles, move through them, feel their musculature. The pieces that had the greatest impact for me are the longer ones, such as “Teos” and “A Betrayal,” which rely in part on the use of space on the page; to read them feels like several sorts of travelling. I did not think I could reproduce them properly here, so instead I have chosen this beautiful short poem:

A Love Of Greek

The dry crackling slope, the meadowlark’s whistle,
bleached hollow oat-stems breaking like glass,
air a palpable nothingness
through which your voice rose to us, audience
of five standing above the pit, while you
after scrambling to the bottom
where they had dug it out level with the lower road
declaimed with a grand and serious joy
the opening lines of the Odyssey
and the earth-walls, vine-tangled, steeply
framing you and the little house behind you,
swerved into white, angular marble.

Easy to say why I like that one — the concrete detail, but not piled up until there is no motion, the moment being captured and evoked, so reading it I feel as if I were there, the startled joy of it, and the way that the poet’s experience of time being transcended comes through so that I, also, transcend time — Gibbons feels himself caught into the ancient world, and I feel myself caught into Gibbons’ world. Beautiful.

I will post another, longer poem by Gibbons tomorrow — and I plan also to get his book once it is out; perhaps it will aid me in finding more precise language to describe what it is I value in poetry.

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