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January 8, 2009

Book Notes - Dobby Gibson ("Skirmish")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

I first heard about Dobby Gibson while reading this list of the top ten modern books of poetry. Polar immediately captivated me with its wintry theme and clever abstractions.

Skirmish is Gibson's follow-up volume to Polar, and collects short poems, all titled "Fortune."

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A noirish current runs through Gibson's second collection, which finds fascination in dark, abandoned urban or suburban spaces and unsolvable everyday mysteries: “There's a street beneath this street, a city beneath this city,/ inhabited by empty tunnels/ built for trains that never arrived.” These mostly short, free verse poems hum with gloomy humor and the mood of pregnant anticipation one finds in a Paul Auster novel."

In his own words, here is Dobby Gibson's Book Notes essay for his poetry collection, Skirmish:

I discovered I loved poetry around the same time I discovered I loved indie rock, if that term even means anything any more. If Frank O’Hara and D. Boon (to take two examples) share a lesson for me, it’s that you don’t need a reason to make art other than to delight your friends. In fact, one of them can do the cover art. (It helps if your friends are Grace Hartigan or Raymond Pettibon, of course.) You don’t even have to know how to play your instrument — at least, not in a traditional way. Figuring out how to make art can be one of the great subjects of your art. “I didn't know that you had to learn to play,” Ornette Coleman once said. “I thought you had to play to play.”

A Skirmish playlist:

“Sleep Talking,” Ornette Coleman

It’s inspiring that someone his age can still be this expeditionary with a plastic saxophone.

“Lose Big,” Eef Barzelay

The poem “Ode to Unconventional Beauty” in Skirmish is about as slyly pop cultural as I get, something Eef Barzley does frequently. The poem begins with an image of Lauren Hutton. I read somewhere that when Lauren Hutton first started modeling, Eileen Ford forced her to plug the gap between her front teeth with morticians’ wax. It wasn’t until she defied Ford and embraced her signature gap-toothed smile that her career took off.

“Speedbumps,” Luna

Dean Wareham is an American treasure. He writes incredibly addictive pop melodies with lyrics that move lightning-fast from wryness to pathos, with lots of inventive images. He also wears great shirts. Someone told me he gets them at Paul Smith. I want to meet him someday so I can ask him.

“Steps to Miles,” Hayden

I stole the title of the album that carries this song for one of the poems in Skirmish, “Skyscraper National Park.” Don’t ask a poet for royalties, Hayden. There aren’t any.

“Little Fury Things,” Dinosaur Jr.

The guitars on this record sound as if they’re being recorded inside an evacuated space station using a Speak & Spell. I wish I could make a poem sound like that.

“I Will Dare,” The Replacements

This one’s for you, Minneapolis, a great city for writers and artists. We have Graywolf Press, the Walker Art Center, supportive grants and foundations, lots of book-lovers — and First Avenue. We also have December-February, when there is nothing to do but write poems or start a band.

“The Biz,” The Sea and Cake

The guitar solo on this song is an exquisite disaster. I’ve seen Sam Prekop play it live a dozen times, and he never quite recaptures the beauty of the original mistakes. Prekop, who is also a painter, was generous enough to agree to provide the cover art for my first book, but other circumstances prevented it from happening. I still haven’t gotten over that disappointment.

“Company Calls,” Death Cab for Cutie

I have a friend named The Gooch. Ben Gibbard is his cuz. About a year ago, The Gooch, Ben and I took a 20-mile bike ride here in Minneapolis. Ben rode my rusty 1987 Miyata, which is like pedaling a Zamboni. At the 18-mile mark, Ben casually revealed that the bike’s shifter was broken and he had been wedging his thumb into the shift levers to keep the bike in gear, even though he had lost feeling in his hand. That tells you everything you need to know about Ben Gibbard — great guy. One of those Coldplay drama queens wouldn’t have made it to the end of the block on that Miyata.

“Trains Across the Sea,” The Silver Jews

At least four of David Berman’s records are staples for me. I might not listen to them for a few months, but I just come back hungrier. His book of poetry, Actual Air, is one of the best first books of poetry published in the past decade.

“Snowin’ on Raton,” Townes Van Zandt

I have another friend named Hoss. A little over a decade ago, we were drunk in Nashville. Or we thought we were drunk — until Townes Van Zandt walked into the bar and redefined the chemical state itself. He was so drunk his eyes were like coin slots. He tapped someone he knew on the shoulder. He didn’t even have to say anything. His face said, “I am suffering, and I need you to take care of me.” They quickly left. I’m still haunted by this scene. Hoss and I went home — embarrassed at our childish selves. Van Zandt died about a year later. This song is from At My Window, which is not generally considered one of his great records, but I love its quiet beauty.

“No More Shoes,” Stephen Malkmus

Pavement was a huge influence on me in my 20s. I was disappointed by Malkmus’ first solo record, and for a while, I was worried he was going to start cranking out forgettable mediocrities like the once-great Paul Westerberg. But his last 2-3 records have been terrific. He’s getting more interesting. For this album, “Face the Truth,” he just went down into his basement with a microphone and got his weird on. I’ll bet he has a closet full of amazing demos.

“Revelation Big Sur,” Mark Kozelek

This song makes me think of San Francisco, which is where I’m going to move after Oprah chooses me for her book club and I become a billionaire poet mogul with a diamond encrusted monocle.

“Plux Quba,” Nuno Canavarro

If I write to music, this is the kind I typically write to: no lyrics to distract me from my own language making, and sounds that are shattered and confusing in some way.

“Teenage Spaceship,” Smog

Bill Callahan is one of my favorite poets.

“Bathysphere,” The Dictionary

This song — this entire noise-rock album, really — is unlistenable. Matt Hart, who is in the band, admits it openly. Matt gave me the profound gift of the title of my book, Skirmish, so he gets the last track on my playlist. Thanks, Matt.

Dobby Gibson and Skirmish links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
the book's page at the publisher
Goodreads page for the author
Goodreads page for the book

Minneapolis Observer Quarterly review
Minnesota Public Radio's interview with the author
Publishers Weekly review
Twin Cities Daily Planet review

From the Fishouse poems and readings by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)