Margaret Gibson Essay - Critical Essays


Grounded in the stillness and cycles of nature, Margaret Gibson’s poetry offers precise descriptions of physical things and everyday gestures, all seemingly imbued with meaning. Gibson often utilizes themes, metaphors, and images from Christian, Asian, literary, and political sources.

Gibson has said, “I write in order to be a more intimate witness and participant in my own life and the life of others. Writing helps me to pay attention, to make connections, to see, to translate the silences that surround us and are within us.” To create poems that are simultaneously meditations, actions, and sacred texts, Gibson often employs a quasi-autobiographical voice; sometimes, she assumes a persona.


Gibson’s first book of poetry, Signs, establishes her as a poet of nature, one with keen powers of observation and lyrical gifts that allow for precise descriptions. Attentive to the seasonal changes, the poet of Signs links what she sees in woods, gardens, and skies with what she feels. Some poems in this first book—as well as in many poems Gibson wrote later in her career—pose direct, earnest questions: “What am I hiding?” she asks in “Signs: A Progress of the Soul,” and “How can we be content?” she wonders in “Remembering What I Want.” However, Gibson does not answer the questions directly. Instead, she points to what happens in nature and leaves the reader to make connections. In fact, Signs is largely the poet’s contemplative personal journey, encapsulated in lines from the title poem:

I tell everyone, listen the world is a mirror in which I see myself coming towards myself, never quite closing the distance.

“I praise the earth,” proclaims Gibson in “Canticle for the New Year.” Indeed, the maples, soil, seeds, earthworms, river, wind, and plethora of woodland images prompt the poet’s grateful reflections in Signs, along with her own rural and domestic activities. Almost always using the first-person “I,” the poet describes herself planting acorns, unearthing roots, fetching wood, shaping bread dough, sautéing vegetables, and making and appreciating love, ever finding significant parallels in the natural world and the rhythms of her individual life.

Dark notes enter in such poems as “A Simple...

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