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The Writing Life: An Interview with Dobby Gibson

2013 September 10
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The Writing LifeDobby_Gibson_Headshot

Editor’s Note: We’ve long been admirers of poet Dobby Gibson, thanks to his witty and humanly vulnerable approach to his art. You can imagine how tickled we were when he agreed to be one of our two featured readers for next week’s Words at WAM open mic at the Weisman Art Museum (co-presented by WAM Collective and yours truly). If you haven’t encountered his work, we strongly urge you to check out his newest collection of poems, It Becomes You, from Graywolf Press (you can read Wren’s review of it here). We hope you enjoy this teaser of an interview with Gibson as much as we do. See you next week at Words at WAM!

Hazel & Wren: Who is an author that continuously surprises you? 

Dobby Gibson: If you mean “continuously surprises” in a good way: Mary Ruefle.

H&W: E-reader or book?

DG: Both. Very few poetry titles are available on e-readers, so I still experience poetry primarily via codex. And for general around-the-house reading and perusing, I definitely prefer the book-as-object. But for traveling, I go with an e-reader. I travel a lot for work, and the way I pack has an entire methodology. I have highly defined ideas about global voltage converters alone.

H&W: What books are stacked by your bedside table (or your equivalent) right now, waiting to be read?

DG: Joan Mitchell: Lady Painter, a terrific biography despite the galling title. And Ex-Voto, a book of poems by Adelia Prado.

H&W: Which authors and/or teachers have most influenced your writing? How so?

DG: I write in a genre that I never studied formally in school. I took one poetry workshop in 1997 and found it to be waste of time. So my “teachers” have all been other poet-friends. Last week I had a great conversation with local poet Steve Healey at the State Fair that helped me realize things about poetry. Children of America, skip school and go to the State Fair with Steve Healey!

H&W: Most productive place for you to write (physically and/or mentally)? 

DG: You know how some authors’ book-jacket biographies say things like: “He divides his time between New York and Maine,” or “She splits her time between Berkeley and Colorado”? I split my writing life between the Dunn Bros. on East Lake Street and the Blue Moon Coffee Shop on East Lake Street. I’ve written two books in those shops — while being subjected to the sight of way too late-middle-aged men in cycling shorts on Saturdays. What is it about wearing those shorts in public that immediately requires a hot cup of coffee?


Psst: Check out this gorgeous MotionPoem of Gibson’s poem, “The Painter,” animated by Mark Rubbo. It’ll make your day.


What We’re Reading: It Becomes You

2013 March 28
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What We're Reading
It Becomes You
 by Dobby Gibson (Graywolf Press, Jan 2013)

The third collection of poems by Minneapolis poet Dobby Gibson, It Becomes You is a dryly witty and capering one. The collection has an interactive element to it, frequently asking the reader to fill in the blanks (often quite literally), and one poem even asks the reader to cut it out and drop it somewhere in public. This make-it-your-own sensibility even overflows onto the back cover, with a tongue-in-cheek section called “Create your on blurb for It Becomes You,” in which the reader is encouraged to fill in the blanks of the blurb provided. What better way to start a review? Here goes (I’ve filled the blank spots in with italics):

“Dobby Gibson’s third collection is a book that mines everyday life with Gibson’s curious, wry eye. In increasingly contemplative tones, these poems surprise and elicit chuckles, without ever forcing a tidy conclusion. In the end, this book dares to ask more than answer, and leaves you with a challenge to fill in the blanks.”

Gibson’s poetry is approachable with its plainly spoken directness. He uses this straight forward approach to make sage observations and, more often than not, to aid his reoccurring state of meditative wonderment. His sage observations feel a bit underwhelmed in a few spots, such as some of the mostly one-line fortunes in the section “40 Fortunes”, such as this one: “The ploughman prays for rain; the roof of your mouth for the pizza to cool; what are our thirties supposed to good for again?” But for the couple that don’t quite hit their mark, there are 30-some others that strike something deep, surprising, or funny. Just a few of my favorites:

2. At the necessary moment, going naked will be your most convincing disguise.

25. “Daddy, I’m afraid of dying,” says the little girl. “But there’s nothing to be afraid of, silly,” says the father, suddenly terrified of his child.

36. A one-line poem called “Upon Leaving the Infertility Clinic”: Six times I tried to tie my necktie, and not once did I get it right.

40. Beware of the wolves. They’ve been raised by wolves.

Because Gibson’s tone is explorative, more often than not, his poems can veer into side tangents. He apologizes for these, such as in “Silly String Theory”: “Sorry, the more invested I become in a subject, / the harder it is for me to define the subject.” Sometimes these tangents can lose track of their focus. Yet mostly I found that these meanderings purposefully bring the reader into Gibson’s head in an inclusive way, and that his meanderings can be just as stunning as the main subject of the poem. I admire and respect Gibson’s honesty in his poems, and how openly he declares his unanswered questions.

For those who are as in love with Minneapolis as I am, take note of the multiple poems set in our Minneapple, lovingly peeling off the layers of our city’s history, and the daily routines lived within it. Two other subjects that resurface throughout are Gibson’s adopted daughter and cancer. He writes about these subjects with that refreshing honesty of his, not shying away from his fears, disappointments, or weaknesses. Thanks to this honesty, his poems are unabashadly human, and echo with the abundance of uncertainty in our everyday lives.

When I arrived at the second to last poem, “Postscript,” I thought I had reached the end of the book. The last stanza plops itself into your hands, leaving it to you to turn it over and mold it in your own way:

In a charming café a thousand miles away,
a couple sits across from one another
and reads the  news in silence.
It’s up to you to choose
what happens next—it always has been—
and it’s okay to choose not much.
Some ice snaps in a glass.
How still the world is.

Yet again, Gibson challenges us: this isn’t the end. In fact, there’s still the title poem to come, and it’s a long one, full of blank space and meditation. Life moves on with our pondering minds always moving, unsure of the end target. Anyway, it’s supposed to be about the journey, isn’t it?

What other poets or authors have you read pull so much from the reader in such a profound, interactive way as Gibson? What are some other successful books asking for reader input?