It’s difficult to know where to start praising RJ Gibson’s poetry chapbook, Scavenge. In these twenty poems, Gibson is like the ghosthunter in the abandoned factory as we readers hold our collective breath wondering what the flashlight’s spot will illuminate next.
The opening poem suitably sets our expectations:
single shoes on the berms and verges
of roadways and off-ramps; rusty
armature of a pram in a pasture
halfway to Tampa; candy-colored
doll house in the north-bound lane;
You stop the car. You hate yourself for braking:
sometimes you have to see.
(from “In Transit”)
There are elegies and laments, remembrances of the year you slept with the dog on the floor, on a pile of folded quilts, because you couldn’t go upstairs to your bed. And then Gibson pulls back, away from the melancholy of meditations and says:
…Fuck wistful. No one could
yearn for his past so much
and still pull up his socks each morning. Nothing
is beautiful, but it’s close.
(from “Fuck Wistful”)
Gibson covers a hemisphere’s worth of emotional territory as this slim collection speeds away from the familial and into the erotically charged poems “Erotics,” “On Main Street,” and “With You As Vincent.”
By closing with “Scavenge, Boy” Gibson brings us back around to the meditations of the opening poem, with a speaker and an unnamed “you” exploring the cast-off detritus of others. Only here the “you” is being told to find a new purpose for these overlooked and shunned things, to remake oneself from that which no one wanted:
yourself a black blazer from off-brand trash bags,
whipstitch a lining from tomato stained copies of the New York
Times. Take the phosphorescent glow your high-beams brought
to the dead doe’s eyes, make it your nightlight. Sample the snap
of the rat trap, loop it, make it the beat of your heart.
Scavenge was co-winner of the 2009 Robin Becker Chapbook Prize, selected by Ruth L. Schwartz and published by Seven Kitchens Press. The prize, for the best poetry manuscripts by Lesbian/Gay/Bisexual/Transgender/Queer writers, awards chapbook publication to two writers – one with and one without previous book or chapbook publication.
All chapbooks by Seven Kitchens Press are hand-trimmed and hand-tied. These are gorgeous works of art in and of themselves. Books can be ordered directly from the press.
This is Gibson's first collection.