Monday, August 30, 2010

Dobby Gibson's "Skyscraper National Park" as Pure War Poetry

I've been reading Dobby Gibson's Polar (2005) and Skirmish (2009), as a break from completing a long essay on war poetry.  His work has an epigrammatic tautness, a propensity to describe weather, and is wise in ways that evades most contemporary poetry.  To say is another way: it's as if a haiku writer smoked a bit of weed and started listening to David Berman and watching films by Tarkovsky and Bergman. 

The press blurb for the book seemed out of step with the aphoristic domestic worlds that each poem inhabits:

"With sheer wit and keen observation, Dobby Gibson’s Skirmish puts into conflict the private and public self, civil disobedience and civic engagement, fortunes told and fortunes made. These poems imaginatively, sometimes manically, move from perception to perception with the speed of a mind forced moment to moment to make sense of distant war and local unrest, global misjudgment and suspicious next-door neighbors, the splice-cuts of the media and the gliding leaves on the Mississippi River."

Honestly, I didn't see the civil disobedience and civic engagement, but I didn't care either.  Sometimes it's a relief to slip into the domestic sphere, turn off the radio, and watch the night fall.  I don't do nearly enough observing in the way that Gibson's poetry invites us.

What surprised me, as I neared the end of the book, was that the distant war did make an appearance.  So, in the process of arguing that we need a poetry that can imagine the distant war, to suture the space between our civilian lives and the new technologies (such as unmanned drones) have exploded the boundaries of the battlefront and sapped the formerly-clear dividing line between soldiers and civilians, I came across this evocation of Pure War:   

"Skyscraper National Park"

Fake trees never grow in the lobbies
not known for any bird or breeze.

Just outside the revolving doors,
smokers stand beneath tiny clouds
and plot their revenge.

Their children are at home,
ordering their feelings over the Internet,
charging them to the credit cards they were given
for keeping spring break domestic this year.

Secretly beneath skirts, secretaries' thongs
slice through the Minneapolis night.

Refrigerated trucks shuttle what's left
of cattle carcasses into the industrial plant.

Above the national forest of television antennae,
unmanned spy drones migrate south,
looking for someplace to rest.

Like birds, they invented flying
to find something new to eat.

-- "Skyscraper National Park" by Dobby Gibson, from his collection of poems Skirmish. Reprinted here with permission from the publisher, Graywolf Press.

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