Ever wonder what goes on in the brain of a poet? Shadowboxing, by Mark Gibbons, is like pulling on a headset and hearing “the rhythmic beat of music/ pounding the ear … the heart/ thump lapping at the shore …”
The latest collection by the Missoula poet veers between rage and reflection. It is, after all, a compendium of loss: “The older we get, the more we hold,/ all those souls who’ve left us behind./ We carry their stories, their voices …”
It’s a weight Gibbons shoulders well. Several poems chronicle the last days of Ed Lahey, “the old miner king of poetry,” others remember Richard Brautigan, dead since 1984, and the poet’s Irish grandfather and his uncle Paul, “waltzing in the dining room/ in a cloud of flour dust/ with the wiry haired girl of his dreams.” Others evoke the obscenity of war, the last gasps of his hometown of Alberton.
Still, he leaves lots of breathing room for the living, desire, dancing to Taj Mahal, the simple pleasure of drinking a beer, a Sunday in May, “a gargle/ of air, a flutter of blood, the body/ language we love and know as ‘here.’”
In “Just the Facts – About Poetry,” he reports, “nobody buys it/ nobody reads it/ but everybody agrees/ it’s really ‘important.’”
I know why I read it: for the slivers of sanity and solace that someone like Gibbons delivers. The reminder “that we best/ honor being alive by living …”
“The term shadowboxing implies awareness of the present, preparation for what lies immediately ahead, and the practice that maintains a fighter’s rhythm,” writes Montana Poet Laureate Tami Haaland. “Gibbons’ rhythm, both earthy and elegant in this volume, is well suited to the task.”
Gibbons lives in Missoula where he teaches poetry and drives a delivery truck. He’s the author of eight collections of poetry and received an Artist’s Innovation Award from the Montana Arts Council in 2013.
– Kristi Niemeyer