Skirmish Poems

Dobby Gibson

Graywolf Press




80 Pages



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With sheer wit and keen observation, Dobby Gibson's Skirmish puts into conflict the private and public selves, civil disobedience and civic engagement, fortunes told and fortunes made. These poems move from perception to perception with the speed of a mind forced moment by moment to make sense of distant war and local unrest, global misjudgment and suspicious neighbors, the splice-cuts of the media and the gliding leaves on the Mississippi River.


Praise for Skirmish

"[Skirmish] teems with a language so alive and so imaginative that one cannot help but read on with wonder and rapture."—The Bloomsbury Review

"Dobby Gibson's first book, Polar, marked him as one of the most talented meditative poets of his generation: unusually adept in syntax, philosophical in spirit, with a commitment to both exploration and coherence. Gibson's poems in Skirmish work by a kind of sonar: when the speaker of a Dobby Gibson poem says, in a typical epigrammatic moment, 'On this planet only humans can remove their clothes without fear,' we are placed in a creative predicament; we must wrangle with the fiction of the proposition itself, and the way it illuminates the actual world of which it is a part. This is a poetry of—in Gibson's own terms—echolocation, that makes us grapple with the ghosts of speech and world at once. The poems of Skirmish are both entertaining and troubling, and full of complex contemporary sensibility."—Tony Hoagland

"Sometimes, titles reveal little about the book they gloss, but in this latest from Gibson, the title provides insight into the material contained within. Literally speaking, a skirmish is a brief exchange between two warring parties that can foretell a larger battle to come. Gibson's work proceeds by just such allusions, giving readers a certain sense of the poem, only to yank them back into the present by overturning all of the assumptions the poem had built. In this age of rapid change, surprise is a constant, but the surprises offered by Gibson's poetry are more than gratuitous shock or quaint novelty. Like a photo whose power lies in having its focal point not in the middle of the picture but on its periphery, Gibson demonstrates that it's not about what you're seeing—it's about what you're ignoring. Mesmerized by skirmishing details, the reader is left to deduce, along with Gibson, that 'truth is often what you at first don't trust.'"—Chris Pusateri, Library Journal

"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. Gibson is no escapist, though, portraying an anxious America in the new millennium. A palpable sense of paranoia is figured as spies who crop up in several poems. The sense of alienation pervades not just the public but also the domestic sphere ('Soon I realized: they weren't actors,/ they were my family'). Gibson also tries the fable, where he finds a comfortable home for his brand of black humor: 'There was once a roofer who lived/ a full life even though a stake/ had been driven through his forehead.' Gibson mixes the language of public discourse, science, TV and everyday conversation in a chatty if bleak voice that is both accessible and satisfyingly challenging."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Dobby Gibson

  • Dobby Gibson is the author of Polar, winner of the Beatrice Hawley Award. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota.