To be honest, I’ve never been an avid reader of poetry. I have nothing against poems, but for some reason my mind wants words on a page to present themselves as prose, and balks at taking them seriously when they’re organized in rhymed couplets, sonnet form, or—God forbid—free verse. When verse is set to music, I can generally handle it better. One reason I found Minneapolis poet Dobby Gibson’s new collection, Skirmish, so enjoyable is that his combination of mordant wit and bittersweet longing so recalls the lyrics of my favorite songwriter, Bob Dylan.
|skirmish by dobby gibson. published by graywolf press (2009). $15.00. dobby gibson will present skirmish on january 9 at 7 p.m. at the loft literary center.|
When people refer to lyrics as “Dylanesque,” they’re usually referring to enigmatic images and dense layers of allusion, but this is also the guy who wrote “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” (“The waitress he was handsome / He wore a powder blue cape / I ordered some suzette, I said / ‘Could you please make that crepe?'”) and “Po’ Boy” (“Poor boy, in the hotel called Palace of Gloom / Calls down to room service, says ‘Send up a room'”). The poems in Skirmish are full of similarly absurd humor—particularly in the several poems titled “Fortune,” which comprise odd aphorisms. (“They need you in wardrobe, fair enough, but who’s this ‘they’?” “You will find great happiness in an old friend. / You will never find your lost cat.”) Some of these are funny, but actual fortune—whether good or ill—is no joke, and Skirmish is suffused with themes of pain, loss, and longing. The three lines that conclude “Mercy” capture Gibson’s style as well as his thesis: “We are born in tiny collisions. / Buttoned into our best suits / we eventually drift apart.”
Gibson is nearly too obviously clever for his own good, but again and again his insight saves him from being a mere novelty. “This poem ends the same way they all do,” concludes one piece. “List everyone you’ve ever had sex with here.” As Homer Simpson might observe, “It’s funny ’cause it’s true!”
Jay Gabler is the Daily Planet’s arts editor.