The Essential Robert Gibbs

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The Porcupine's Quill, 2012 - Poetry - 64 pages

An ideal introduction to Gibbs’ poetic world, The Essential Robert Gibbs collects some of the finest, most thought-provoking works from throughout his career. Sometimes compared to Gerard Manley Hopkins and Margaret Avison, he has been called a ‘gourmet of the minimal’ who ‘devotes himself to asserting the value of the ordinary’ (M. Travis Lane) and his work demonstrates both a sophisticated grasp of the human mind and a warm familiarity of voice.

Gibbs’ poems mix sensuous dreamscapes and grounded realities. In his poems landscapes are evoked in all their ripeness, a father’s quiet nobility is celebrated, writer’s block becomes a force of nature, and a mind can become a home.


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About the author (2012)

Robert Gibbs' paternal great-grandfather was a Gibb from Kenneway, Scotland, who served in the navy and later settled in the Midlands of England; after the move, ``s'' was added to the family name. The poet Gibbs' maternal ancestry (Towers, MacQuarries and Hoars) stemmed from Scottish and Irish roots. When she was a young woman his mother, Bessie Tower, from Turtle Creek, Albert County, New Brunswick, spent two years in Saskatchewan. There she worked as a cook for a threshing crew and turned down a marriage proposal, then returned to the Maritimes in 1925. She soon regretted the move and hoped to return to Moose Jaw, but then she met Robson Gibbs, an engraver and jeweller, and married him in 1926. Her third son, Robert John Gibbs, was born in Saint John on February 3, 1930.

After early schooling in Saint John, Gibbs furthered his education at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton and at Cambridge University, where he was an IODE Scholar from 1952-54. At UNB he completed an MA thesis, ``Symbolism and Imagery in the Poetry of T. S. Eliot.'' For several years he taught in his native province. First he was responsible for ``all subjects, grades nine to twelve,'' in a one-room school house in Central Hampstead (``best job I ever had, farm-fattened''); then later became principal of Cambridge High School from 1955-58, followed by a five-year period teaching at Prince Charles Junior High School in Saint John. In 1950 Gibbs's poems began to appear in The Fiddlehead, and during his years of taking classes and studying for his first two university degrees, then working in public schools, he was one of the contributors whose work appeared most frequently in that journal. One of his professors at UNB, clearly an early influence on his writing, was the brilliant polymath, poet and cultural historian A. G. Bailey, whose life and works Gibbs would honour over fifty years later in his poem ``AGB.''

The many-faceted Protestantism of Gibbs' family had an impact on his imagination in both poetry and fiction. His father was raised Anglican, and his mother Baptist. The great aunts and uncles among the MacQuarries (his mother's maternal line) included Bliss, a grocer at whose house Robson Gibbs boarded when he met Bessie, and a Reformed Baptist who later became a Pentecostal minister. Aunt Flo was a Seventh Day Adventist, Uncle Charlie a Wesleyan, Aunt Sadie United Church, Uncle John a Christian Scientist on PEI, and Uncle Cliff -- a potato farmer in Carleton county -- a Jehovah's Witness. Even though Gibbs' mother would tell him that he inherited his ``gift of gab'' from the MacQuarries' maternal line, the Hoars, actually it was the spirited religious loyalties of the MacQuarries themselves that inspired some of the drama, comedy and colour in his two books of short fiction, I've Always Felt Sorry for Decimals and Angels Watch Do Keep, books revolving around Hutchie and Pompman Killam, the orphaned children of missionaries.

In 1963 Gibbs began his many years of service teaching at the University of New Brunswick. In his spare time he began working on a Doctorate, which he completed in 1970 with the dissertation ``A Study of Irony in the Poems of E. J. Pratt.'' He held various administrative positions in the Department of English, including Director of Creative Writing and of Graduate Studies, and worked in several editorial capacities -- as well as occasional book-reviewer -- for The Fiddlehead from 1968 until after his retirement in 1989. Eighteen years after the first publication of his poetry in literary journals, Gibbs's first chapbook, The Road From Here, was released in 1968 as the first of the New Brunswick Chapbooks series, followed two years later by his first full-length collection, Earth Charms Heard So Early, published by Fiddlehead Poetry Books who also published Gibbs's subsequent collections during the 1970s, A Kind of Wakefulness and All This Night Long. The community workshop ``McCord Hall'' or ``The Icehouse Gang'' on the UNB campus provided the first audience for many of his poems during that 1970s and '80s, and Gibbs offered insightful criticism and generous support for many other writers there; it was also at McCord Hall that he began reading aloud his Hutchie and Pompman stories.

When he was fifty-five years old, Goose Lane Editions -- which had evolved from Fiddlehead Poetry Books and would eventually become a far more ambitious and versatile press -- published a new and selected poems by Gibbs. Oberon Press of Ottawa published his books of short stories, as well as his two novels A Mouthorgan for Angels and Kindly Light and two volumes he edited of Alden Nowlan's newspaper columns for The Telegraph-Journal. As Nowlan's literary executor, Gibbs also edited a volume of the

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