‘It Becomes You’ by Dobby Gibson

  • PUBLISHED BY: Graywolf Press, 2013
  • REVIEW BY: Peter Longofono


“freeing up our time to worry about what to do next”


The title of Dobby Gibson’s third collection generously provides a roadmap or touchstone for the poems within—again and again, we find ourselves unpacking two of the phrase’s key resonances:

1. It suits you, it fits you.

2. That which was termed “it” familiarizes into “you,” the addressed/beloved.

Both convey accustomization, that elusive, half-desired engine rumbling beneath many of Gibson’s pieces. He can’t decide (and why should he?) if he’s satisfied or mystified by his own fulfillment of patterns, the haunt of wry predictability that can define adulthood:

Greetings, stranger, why live sorry?
We set the table, we clear the table.
In between, we call the children to supper,
and then quickly send them away.

Above and beyond the primal challenge of writing while child-rearing, he manages to clinch that wait, I’m a parent now? twinge with verve, as if it were a property inexplicably turned on. The poems here are littered with such Easter eggs, controlled detonations set off by potent turns where the narrative becomes us for an exhilarating moment. It probably has something to do with his career in advertising, which fact doesn’t escape Gibson’s scrutiny.

First we invent stuff,
then we invent stuff to make that stuff,
freeing up our time to worry about what to do next
and what kind of lifestyle to do it in,
the paint engineers creating a new hue
to give lovers another reason to argue,
the white of the moon in space,
the black of the space in space.

It would be too easy to impute his thousand-yard stare to some innate Midwestern weltschmerz, though he rivals Cummings in rhapsodizing snow and gives the nod to fellow flyover states. It’s more a baffled stock-taking: is this it? Are we familiar enough with it to call it you?

Gibson’s apt to sideswipe us unexpectedly, an effect all the more devastating when taken in context of his habitually modest, conversational lines. One can’t prepare for zingers like “the sound the two Dakotas make / when they put their heads / together” or “we’re adorable! Our money is adorable!” These devices cancel solipsism, triteness, and the myriad other thinking-man’s maladies afflicting meditative poetry. They’re just short of flip, the kind of exclamations that go over well with children because they weird imagination.

Here is no mournful Luddite. It’s a good bet that many of his best lines were probably first committed to an iPhone on the fly. He makes explicit mention of his own gizmos. Gibson walks around with them in these poems and pulls it off beautifully. His musings on transport, domesticity, and communication are his in the sense that they’re prone to amusing self-interrogation. Which, of course, given the title, ends up aiming the barrel right at the reader. “God forbid any of  us should get what we want,” he vows,

The world seems perpetual
only to those fortunate enough
to be lost in its crowds,
and yet, the expression on your face
when you mistake yourself
to be alone is the truest you.