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Poetry is second nature to Preston resident Margaret Gibson

Published 08/17/2011 12:00 AM

Margaret Gibson perceives the world through poetry. In an unsentimental yet eloquent voice, her words open our hearts and minds to a new understanding of ourselves and our relationships to each other, to nature, and to the spiritual underpinnings that keep us connected.

Gibson is the author of 10 books of poems — most recently "Second Nature" (2010). Her other books include "Long Walks in the Afternoon" (a Lamont selection* 1982); "The Vigil," a finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry (1993); and "One Body," winner of the 2008 Connecticut Center for the Book Award in poetry. She is also author of the memoir, "The Prodigal Daughter," which was a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award in Memoir and Biography in 2009.

Gibson is married to the writer David McCain. She grew up in Virginia and moved to Preston in 1975.

"I did the most un-feminist thing you ever did in life [at that time]," she says. "I was about to be tenured at George Mason University when I went to Yaddo (the artist community in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.,) for six weeks, met a man, (David) moved to Connecticut, and got married. I've been teaching and writing here for 36 years."

Gibson has had a long career as a "gypsy scholar," teaching in various places. She became a professor of English at the University of Connecticut in 1993, retiring in 2006, and is now a visiting professor.

"I achieved a great balance writing at home in solitude for half the year," she says, "and for the other half of the (academic) year, being out there teaching students and talking about what I love doing."

Gibson wasn't gripped with the desire to write poetry until she was already in college and "accidentally" ended up in a creative writing class, expecting it to be a course in reading contemporary poetry and short stories.

"I had no idea how to write a poem," she says. "I thought [poetry was] lofty thoughts, preferably in rhyme, preferably in a sonnet form. That's what I dished out in the first few assignments. I got that idea knocked out of me very quickly and had to confront, as all poets should, 'What is a poem?' and 'What is my relationship to that particular [structure] of language?' "

Gibson is grateful to "really good mentors" who challenged her early on "to give it a try and to give it everything I have" and helped her develop what Flannery O'Connor called "the writing habit."

She doesn't think of a poet "as someone who has to be involved in self-focused navel gazing. It's not a narcissistic endeavor, but I do think, just as human beings need to know where they stand and what they stand for, you can look out at the world and other people everywhere from that perspective of clarified vision and values," she says.

"Poetry is really an act of taking things that come to you," she adds, "— a scarlet tanager or an act of war — whatever takes your attention, you study it for yourself, but you also take it into that part of yourself where you test things. You look out and you look in."

The subjects of Gibson's poems vary from the natural to the material world, from the woods in her Connecticut backyard to an ancient road in Greece, from deeply personal explorations of death and dying to the universal politics of armed conflict.

She says she acquired her keen sense of observation early on from her mother, who grew up in the country and loved nature, and was always saying, "Oh, Margaret, look at that — !"

"You can't know anything unless you pay attention to it," Gibson insists. "There are times you're busy rushing around, following busy demons in your brain, and don't notice what another person is going through … or what's happening in the public world and its repercussions. If you're committed to paying attention, taking it in, and letting it register on a feeling and thinking level, then you are open to insights large and small."

A visual imagination is something Gibson has been blessed with and she says she feels lucky to live in the woods — where she and her husband love to walk and where they find so much that's beautiful to observe.

She is in the process of writing a new book of poems with the working title "Broken Cup," about memory loss and forgetting.

Gibson says she's come to a place where she sees that everything is ultimately connected.

"Once that happens, you realize everything is personal and everything is impersonal. We're all part of one enormous, sometimes painful, sometimes joyful experience," she says.

"One of the things I think we're here to do is to find the things that are broken and to mend them. Or to find where there is fracture or division and create a wholeness."

And as her readers know, this is something the gifted poet achieves with grace and compassion, poem after poem.

~

*The James Laughlin Award, formerly the Lamont Poetry Prize, is given annually by the Academy of American Poets for a poet's second published book; it is the only major award that honors a second book.

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TRANSPARENT

By Margaret Gibson
(reprinted with permission)

One day I will not wake in my body as you know it,

or go from the bed to the open

door to breathe in the fresh glory of the morning.

Although you will not see me, by afternoon I will be

wind, unfenced in the expanse

between towering clouds of oyster and plum air.

I will be in the oak, in the ivy, in the spillway

and banks thick with iris,

yellow-eyes and blue, and in the tannic and bittersweet

silk of the pond over which clouds pause and reflect

before shattering the surface.

I will be in the rain, in the stone, in the root, in the fruits

of the garden. You will take me into your mouth

(as so often you have)

and we will be one body of solitudes and barrens and wilds.

We will be mountain and cirrus, salamander, owl in the dark

husk of winter, a crescendo

of cicadas in summer. We will fly in a green flash of light

over fields taking shape in the early morning mists. Here,

always here. So close, there is

nothing deeper I can tell you than what we already know.