Margaret Gibson Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Although primarily known as a poet, Margaret Gibson has written a memoir, The Prodigal Daughter: Reclaiming an Unfinished Childhood (2008). Segments of this work previously appeared in literary magazines such as Creative Nonfiction, Blackbird, Southern Review, and Image. Framed by initial and final chapters about homecoming and reconciliation, this memoir traces Gibson’s youth and schooldays in sedate, west-end Richmond, Virginia, during the 1950’s and 1960’s. It portrays the inner workings of a conventional urban family, which includes Gibson’s difficult sister, withdrawn father, and pious and staunchly southern mother. Critics have praised the memoir for its poetic language and vivid evocation of a particular time and place, as well for insights on social pressures and race relations. With writer and poet Richard McCann, Gibson coedited Landscape and Distance: Contemporary Poets from Virginia (1975).


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Margaret Gibson has received various awards and honors for her collections of poetry, most of which are lyrical and spiritual. Long Walks in the Afternoon was named the Lamont Poetry Selection by the Academy of American Poets in 1982. The Vigil, a book interweaving the interior monologues of four related women sharing a pottery project, was a finalist for the 1993 National Book Award. For Memories of the Future, a work in which Gibson imagines the writings of a real-life Italian photographer in the last year of her life, she received the Melville Cane Award of the Poetry Society of America (1986-1987). She won the Connecticut Book Award in Poetry in 2008 for One Body. In addition, Gibson has been awarded two Pushcart Prizes, the James Boatwright III Prize for Poetry from Shenandoah in 1996, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant for her work.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Flora, Joseph M., Amber Vogel, and Bryan Albin Giemza, eds. Southern Writers: A New Biographical Dictionary. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. Offers a biographical sketch of Gibson and a comprehensive list of published works.

Gatta, John. Making Nature Sacred: Literature, Religion, and Environment in America from Puritans to the Present. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. Explains how natural landscapes have inspired poets, authors, and key historical figures—from Native Americans and colonist Anne Bradstreet to naturalist John Muir and contemporary environmental authors. Tells how nature-inspired writings have shaped American cultural history and religious traditions.

Gibson, Margaret. The Prodigal Daughter: Reclaiming an Unfinished Childhood. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2008. Gibson describes growing up inquisitive and different in post-World War II America, in a city that valued tradition and gentility more than change.

Hamilton, David. “Light on the Body.” Review of One Body. Iowa Review 38, no. 1 (Spring, 2008): 188-192. Hamilton describes the book as an “inventory of loss in four parts.” Contains a brief analysis of “Cooking Supper While My Sister Dies.”

McNeice, Ray, and Larry Smith, eds. American Zen: A Gathering of Poets. Huron, Ohio: Bottom Dog Press, 2009. This anthology brings together the work of thirty Americans writing in the spirit of Zen Buddhism. The collection includes at least five poems by each poet, along with a biographical sketch, photograph, and individual statement about Zen and poetry. Poets Gibson, Jane Hirschfield, and Tess Gallagher are included.

Townsend, Alison. Review of Earth Elegy. Women’s Review of Books 15, no. 4 (January, 1998): 18-19. Illustrates how Gibson’s poetry has changed over twenty-five years, arguing that the urgency of her early work has given way to greater stillness and acceptance.

Wagoner, David, and David Lehman, eds. The Best American Poetry, 2009. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009. An anthology that showcases seventy-five selected poems, including Gibson’s “Black Snake.” Reveals how freedom and violence have become prevalent issues in American poetry since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.