In 1944, Margaret Leigh Gibson was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, to engineer John Spears Ferguson and Mattie Ferguson. The couple raised Gibson and her sister, Elizabeth, in a modest brick house in Richmond, Virginia. Gibson’s Stonewall Court neighborhood was a playground of plum trees, honeysuckle, and scented flora; later, nature would become the spiritual bedrock of her poetry. Piano lessons and music stirred young Gibson, facilitating an artistic connection with the world that she would later call “the great listening.” In time, writing poetry would do much the same.
Although her parents were prone to brooding silences, the budding poet was fascinated with the meanings of words and phrases that they and other grown-ups used: “Different,” “upright,” “bills,” and “Communists,” loomed large at home; at the family’s fundamentalist Presbyterian church, “sin,” “soul,” “the tie that binds,” and “the Shadow of Death” seemed pivotal. Some of these very words and phrases would find their way into Gibson’s poetry. Early on, Gibson sensed that words could be potent, clarifying, even intimate. In The Prodigal Daughter, she states:While Mom read, I daydreamed the story, trying to see it. I knew the words nearly by heart. By heart was deeper than knowing something just in your mind. If you knew it by heart you loved it word for word, the way I knew the lullaby Mom sang to us at night.
(The entire section is 457 words.)