Richer than Prayer or Vow (The Georgia Review, Fall issue, 2015)
What’s your chapbook about?
The series of poems addresses “No one”—a name for the space the holy might inhabit. Having kept “God” out of my poems for years, these poems seek to establish a relationship with “No one,” under circumstances that include aging, illness, and living nearer to death.
What’s the oldest piece in your chapbook? Or can you name one poem that catalyzed or inspired the rest of the chapbook? What do you remember about writing it?
The second poem, “Not to Remain Altogether Silent” was the first in the series to be written, and all the others followed rather steadily for perhaps six months. The poem came quickly. I’d read Christian Wiman’s book My Bright Abyss some months earlier, but had long been wanting to clarify what might be my relationship with “No one,” which others might call God, or the holy, or the Absolute, or the Source, or . . . there are many names for what really has no name.
The poems follow a curve of growing intimacy; even if one is not a believer, if one continues to address “No one,” a sense of presence comes into being; intimacy deepens. I didn’t set out to write a chapbook. The series of poems closes a book of poems in progress, Ask Heraclitus. I sent the poems to The Georgia Review, often a first reader of what I consider my best poems to be. It was their idea to publish the series of 11 poems (11 of 14) within the fall issue as a chapbook.
What are you working on now?
I’m finishing the poems in Ask Heraclitus.
What advice would you offer to students interested in creative writing or poetry?
Writing poems asks you to give yourself completely and honestly, to pay attention, to ask yourself questions you can’t answer. Just do it.
If you wrote about one year from your life as a chapbook subject, which year would you pick? Why?
The one I’m living now. Why? It’s where “not-knowing” is focused right now and the questions are fresher, more insistent.
Margaret Gibson is the author of 11 books of poetry, most recently Broken Cup (Louisiana State University Press, 2013). The title poem won a Pushcart Prize in 2014. Gibson has received the Lamont Selection (1982), The Melville Kane Award (1986-87), the Connecticut Book Award (2008) and was a Finalist for the National Book Award in Poetry in 1993.
Within the plum tree’s froth and bloom,
imagination steered me,
rapt, into the star fields, and I hummed—
hymns, most likely. Now I break down
in a mutter of tears for no reason—yes,
I should calm down. As a child,
I was the plum tree’s rough bark
and fuzzy scent; the night sky was vast
and near, the stars a somatic dazzle.
Oh, that was long ago! I was unified
and clear. Since then I’ve either
looked away or held on too tight,
unwilling to see what I’ve cherished
become a lovely clutter in the heart.
But tonight I hear you, No one—
Let the petals fall—
and into the ringing stillness,
where I may wait forever for all I know,
I let them go. What’s in doubt for once,
No one, isn’t you. You exist, if only
as an odd willingness to let my spirit
be empty of everything I thought
I felt or heard or saw or had to have
if happiness were to continue.
I have nothing now. The nothing’s you.