Tuesday, March 22, 2016
My Mouth, the Ego/ Candy, caramel, ice creams/ sucked in, mashed/ between the upper plate, the lower tongue,/ tongue, the taster flap/ mastermind/ preempting purple muscle/ without wit, undulating and insatiable/ seeking sweet seeking
The words of the poem roll off the tongue, as Rebecca Kaiser Gibson reads them at the Toadstool Bookshop in Peterborough Saturday. Her first full-length book of poetry “Opinel,” published by Bauhan this month, is a feeding for the soul. More than a tour of the world — Maryland, New Hampshire, France, India — Gibson words transport one to that inner place of being, with all its mystery and playfulness. It isn’t her certainty that creates this dynamic, but rather a “not knowing.”
“I never realized how funny that was to people,” Gibson says about “My Mouth, the Ego” (excerpted above) after the reading.
The poem takes a comical perspective of how the ego works. “It’s the way we identify with our egos as if they were us,” Gibson explains. “We actually have choices, but we don’t know that, especially in the presence of a bag of potato chips — for me, it’s cheese.”
The poem eventually compares the ego to a dark, empty room, reminiscent of a cave Gibson visited during a stay in India in 2011. “That’s what the ego’s like. There’s no end to it,” she says, and it insists it’s you. “I had never thought of the hunger of the ego before [writing] the poem.”
Asked if the coming together of a poem brings clarity, Gibson is careful wither her response: “The experience isn’t exactly clarity. It’s more like, ‘Oh, surprise’ and ‘delight’.... Clarity is more like the ego — like, ‘Oh, I’ve got it.’”
Writing a poem doesn’t bring a sense of ownership, she says.
Though Gibson — who now lives and Marlborough and spends a lot of her free time in Peterborough — didn’t set out to write about all of the places she’s lived, her poems reflect a reflective turning into those experiences, no less so than in her writing of India. “I think what happened in India is that I reverted to the way I thought somewhat as a child,” she says. “Me and my sister just went through our paces, everything was organized around us. But we didn’t get it.” Going to India invoked that experience of not knowing what was happening around her. “Most of the time, I was just walking around mystified, but protected — the way I was as a child.”
She recalled how “mind-blowing” the traffic was in New Deli, with vehicles of every size, cows and elephants coursing the roads, inches apart as they passed each other. Her backseat driving was out the window, she says. “I was either going to die, or not.”
Gibson taught poetry writing while in India, something she also does here in the states at Tufts University. While at home in the classroom, Gibson admits she was lost, but not in a bad way, most of the time in India. “I didn’t have anyone to explain the culture to me.... I was just looking and guessing.”
In her poem “Meenakshi, the Fish-eyed Goddess,” Gibson imagines a conversation between Meenakshi and Shiva:
Her worshippers wish for/ ritual, Meanwhile their need calms/ them. And the extra breast they claim she had,/ really,/ just self-consciousness, that lump,/ wasn’t it?/ which melted, as predicted,/ when she met Shiva./ He didn’t care, he said/ how long it took, they’d talk all through,/ beyond. And do. He’s patient as a god.
“What if we realized our conversations were like the gods’?” Gibson says. “We’re just smaller versions of that.”
Her poems of India are not so much about that vast country, with its rich history, as about not knowing India, she explains. Told that her other poems are like that, too, Gibson reveals that could be a reaction to growing up around people who seemed very certain of what they knew. “I was surrounded by people who knew or claimed to know,” she recalls.
Her poetry isn’t about knowing anything for certain. As she says, “It’s not a proclamation.”
A full list of Gibson’s upcoming readings may be found online at www.rebeccakaisergibson.com; her next reading in the Monadnock region is set for Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. at Dublin’s Del Rossi’s Trattoria.