The Art of Poetry at Federal Street Folly: Longtime collaborators of word and image appear at park

books_art of poetryTG_090315Back in 1978, Robert Gibbons and Bradford Fuller were strangers who happened to be side by side, up on extension ladders painting a house in Marblehead Neck on the North Shore of Boston. The poet and artist, respectively, turned to each other and began talking. Thus began an argy-bargy that they have kept up, in friendship and shared food and wine and good times and artistic collaboration, all these years.

Gibbons is “one of the finest practitioners of prose poetry in the U.S., if not the world,” according to Bent Sørensen in his review of Beyond Time: New and Selected Work, 1977-2007. I discovered this truism for myself, when what seemed to be a simple lunch of New England fish chowder and an interview with the poet and artist turned into a snapshot example of how the two men come together to create. Music, banter, memories, ideas, a tour of writing studios including a Thoreau-style one-room cabin in Gibbons’s backyard – these are just a few of the flavors that attended Gibbons’ chowder invite. Also on hand that day last week were Rebecca Fuller, Bradford’s wife and consistent inspiration, and Geoff and Angelina Gronlund, of Nine Point Publishing in Bridgton, proud producers of the works.

Ten years ago, almost to the day, Gibbons was featured on the cover of the Portland Phoenix, with a review of his then new book, Body of Time, inside. Since that time, he’s been working like Herman Melville hunting his own white whale. He wrote Beyond Time; Travels Inside the Archive; Jagged Timeline (a bilingual translation into Danish with a 33-page introduction aimed at a European audience by Bent Sørensen); Rhythm of Desire & Resistance; This Time, Traveling Companion; and To Know Others (a trilogy of book-length prose poems); Olson/Still: Crossroad; and The Degas, to name a few.

When Gibbons is not creating, he’s making the global rounds to talk about his work, and moreover, the work of the writers, painters, philosophers, and musicians who fuel his full-tank of creative genius.

In 2006, he was awarded a $10,000 grant from the John Anson Kittredge Fund to travel and read his work at the Poetry & Politics Conference at the University of Stirling in Scotland. In 2013, he was invited to give the keynote address at the second annual European Beat Studies Conference at Aalborg University. The title of the speech? “Kerouac & the Ecstatic Act of Writing.” Bénédicte Meillon, director of the conference called “Dwellings of Enchantment: Writing and Re-enchanting the Earth,” invited Gibbons to give a paper next June at the University of Perpignan, France. The talk will be titled “Cave of Being,” which is Charles Olson's translation of the Greek word, Ethos.

Gibbons is the rare writer who can hold in his head inspiration from seemingly infinite sources. Reading his prose poems is like a full immersion Internet experience, moving from reference to reference like hyperlinks. However, his work doesn’t serve to intimidate but rather elucidate. Gibbons takes the reader on a journey through his mind, into casual but causal relationships between a lover’s hair on his bed, the lover away for a while but ever-present in his thoughts that jog from aural morning pleasures like Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis and John Coltrane to gustatory delights like fresh baked bread and coffee and walnuts. Gibbons is the new Henry Miller, with less overt sex but many times more sensual. He teases readers with philosophy from old texts and translates them living in the day with market visits and chats with immigrant Mainers.

First Friday Art Walk buffs can have the full-blown experience of Gibbons and Fuller collaborations at Federal Street Folly, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Make the farther walk two blocks beyond Monument Square, to the back of the Press Hotel, where the two men will be in full argy-bargy mode. Gibbons will be reading from recent writings which inspired the Fuller pieces, The Leviathan and Homeland, which will be on display during the talk and adorning the hotel walls afterwards.

Gibbons’ explained how he and Fuller became connected with the folks at Press Hotel. It was during a discussion with curator of the hotel’s art collection, Sean Ireland, and Crista Crews, programming and events director who brings music and artists and events to Federal Street Folly, the pop-up park behind the hotel for another two months.

“We talked about my recent endeavors, including a long 350-page poem, Anatomy & Geography, which manuscript is divided into three ‘Books’ with Prefaces written by Ben Bollig, who teaches at Oxford, Bent Sørensen, who teaches at Aalborg University in Denmark, and Peter Anastas, fellow writer and longtime friend of the great American poet Charles Olson,” he said. “I described to Crista and Sean how after that seven-month-long process I needed a sort of breather, and in response to a call from a gallery in Provincetown for visual imagery on the theme of ‘The Whale,’ I began keeping a visual Logbook combining collaged images with written passages.”

After completing the 125-page sketchbook, Gibbons asked Fuller to turn some of the poetic pages into a work of art. Fuller is no stranger to collaborating with Gibbons, having designed the covers to his books Streets for Two Dancers, The Book of Assassinations, Beyond Time, and one of the covers to the interdisciplinary journal Janus Head, where Gibbons was poetry and fiction editor from 2004 to 2011.

“He also created my website and faithfully posted the daily Log for two years and two days. Now that’s friendship!” Gibbons said.