To be a good writer, be a good student of your genre…this is especially true for poets….
Louis L. Gibbs’s book of poetry, The View from Inside the Mirror, surprised me. I never know what to expect from a poet whose work I do not know, especially a “newbie” to the genre, and even though this is Gibbs’s second book, his first was a novel, so I was not sure what to expect. Often when self-taught writers move from, say, prose to poetry, their early work suffers from what one might call the “curse of the learning curve”: even if they have developed a solid level of proficiency in one genre that does not guarantee that they have done the spade work necessary to move to another genre successfully.
Luckily for readers, Gibbs has done his homework. The poems in this book show us a writer who has not only taught himself about poetic technique (he plays with both poetic forms and with typography), we discover a still developing poet who has immersed himself in reading poetry that technically, thematically, and philosophically gives him the sorts of influences and models that he needs to grow as an artist. That in itself is refreshing.
The other refreshing element of The View from Inside the Mirror is that Gibbs’s work draws upon poetic traditions not all that familiar to many readers. By taking as his masters such Sufi mystic poets as Hafiz and Rumi, Gibbs challenges both himself as a writer – and us as readers – to acquaint ourselves with poetic styles and life philosophies that expand our typical Western conceptions of both poet and subject matter. That’s – well, amazing.
For instance, here’s a sample of a well known poem by Hafiz:
A poet is someone who can
pour light into a cup,
then raise it to nourish
your beautiful, parched holy mouth.
And a sample from one of Gibbs’s best poems, “The Palm of My Hand”:
The palm of my hand…/Lines upon lines/Shapes and symbols/…a mystery to me…/Only when pressed into yours/Can the magic be revealed.
Gibbs is clearly learning his models’ art and craftsmanship both thematically and stylistically. There are a number of moments in the collection when Gibbs catches in his own voice the essence of Hafiz or Rumi in his work.
As with any developing poet, the works in The View from Inside the Mirror are slightly uneven and a few of the poems do not resonate as one would wish. But Gibbs shows in this collection that he is serious about his craft. If he keeps studying and learning as this collection shows he has already done, he will certainly become a favorite student of his chosen masters in the craft of poetry. And readers will be the beneficiaries.