Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Forgotten Dreams by Mark Gibbons

by Kurt Sobolik Working class poet, Mark Gibbons has unleashed a new book of poems courtesy of FootHills Publishing. Forgotten Dreams, it's called, where "life is a distraction on death row" and death is a carny "giving folks their screamin' money's worth." No stranger to the ass-end of a broom or the jostling wheel of a semi, Gibbons understands that for some folks recession is just another word for waking up and that rough times breed rough characters. One glance at the Lee Nye portrait on the cover will tell you this. So will this poem from midway through Gibbons' latest collection:

No Guts, No Glory--No Luck, No Shame

two boots
against the horizon
sticking out of a rooftop
ventilation shaft

two black boots
a comic strip
peace sign
except for the frozen feet inside

two snowmobile boots
ready to roll
across the skyline
on cold spoke legs

like a rigor mortis swastika
like that Mousetrap game
the tragic embarrassment
of a failed burglary

exposure captured live
on the evening news
desperation suffocating
those underclass blues

a father will try
do provide

All is not grim in Gibbons' poems, however. Sometimes his characters succeed, "create that gap for the stars / to shine on blue collar guys-- / those unshaven fat-asses / buried in the trenches" as in "After Jerry Kramer." Sometimes they rise beyond expectation as does the CAT skinner in "His Brother's Keeper" whose quick thinking saves a bluebird from the smokey chaos of a forest fire. Sometimes they simply remind us what it means to feel alive as in "Out There" or "Obituaries":


I'm not in the obituaries
Today, though someone my age
And several younger than me
Have left, passed on
Through the dark
And beyond
This beautiful frustration
We prance around
In--making up our stories
Of how we want it
To go, knowing how to
Modify our hearts
For the muddy roads
And bloody disappointments--
Cherishing our triumphs,
Those momentary joys
When we forget
The promises, our commitments
To servitude--slave wages
And promissory notes--
Get lost in the business
Of sensory awareness:
Bird prattle after a summer rain,
Cauliflower clouds boiling
Above the trees, deer tongues
Stretching for leaves
(Ears and tails twitching),
Alley lilacs riding the breeze.
If only for a few minutes,
Let us live, let us
Praise the day, the pulse
In our throats, let us steal
Something to love,
Let us laugh aloud, glad to be
Prodded, so gently
Goaded, into breathing--
Simply from reading

Death or, more correctly, how to live in the shadow of death is often on Gibbons' mind: in "Derailed," a poem addressed to his recently departed mother, he muses, "aren't we / all orphans waiting in line?"; in "The Good, The Bad, & The Beautiful," he suggests, "the only real truth / is death"; and in "Werewolf Night," he acknowledges that "a run-down, neighborhood, / small town bar where the stools squeak / & it smells like sour beer" is sometimes the only antidote for his existential angst. While all these musings ring accurate and true to life, it's in "Cleaning Up," a poem dedicated to Jim Simmerman, the Arizona poet who killed himself, where Gibbons most deftly blends his attitudes toward life, death, work and poetry:

Cleaning Up

The lumpers think sweeping the floor is futile,
dull, degrading. I don’t mind pushing the broom:
push, push, pop, shake; push, push, pop, shake;

cement swept clean. The romance
is in the doing, in the dance, punctuated by
the finished task. Somewhere a poet pulls the trigger

on romance, puts his death in order,
the final task, blasts a dramatic exit—bullet
through the brain. Tortured Poet, my ass,

he pulls the trigger because he can,
because he’s a man who needs to end it,
needs to stop the broom from sweeping the empty room

every time he closes his eyes, where the shadows
and the whisking sounds of whispers keep
insisting it’s time to go. Sweeping is a job like breathing,

like moving a piano upstairs, like writing a poem,
it ends and begins again—another chore, a way to fill the time
they pay us for, and sweeping floors pays

more than poetry. But why try to measure
anything in coins or words? Trust your friends know
the dangers of pride and choosing the last ditch—

suicide. Every job’s the same, every job
is different. I try to stay busy when I’m alone, observe,
maybe write a poem about: broom bristles;

a pistol; the billowing dust cloud; black blood
pooled on a rug; my dust pan scraping, then rattling
against the can; BANG! The lid slammed—it’s done.

Mark Gibbons has put his back into these poems and injured himself in the process. He's not complaining though. He knows the value of sharp pains and slow aches, of bashed knuckles and bruised legs, of sweat dripping and blood trickling. Grab an end, walk backward up the ramp with him as he shoulders the load, shows you the way. Then hop up inside with him as he shifts through the gears taking you on a memorable ride through the love, loss, and wonder of life. Trust me, you'll enjoy the trip, and, in the end, you just might find yourself closer to home.

Forgotten Dreams is an 104 page hand-sewn paperbook with spine - $16.00. To see an image of the book, comments by other poets, the author's bio, excerpts from the preface and foreword, to read two more poems or to order on-line go to Foothills Publishing.
To order through mail send total price plus $1.75 Shipping and Handling for each address sent to: (NYS Residents please add $1.28 Sales Tax per book)
(Available July 21. Free shipping if ordered by July 20.)
Send orders to:

FootHills Publishing
PO Box 68
Kanona, NY 14856

Kurt Sobolik is a poet living in an area once known as Lothrop, MT. The town disappeared a century ago, but the voices remain.


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