Opinel is the name of a workaday knife from the Haute-Savoie wielded by shepherds and farmers in the high pastures of the Alps when a tool for paring, shaping, cutting into, scraping out of, or freeing is useful. These poems likewise cleave away the false and deceptive to clarify and reveal a startling and unifying wonder. In language radiant, lovely, and disturbing, Rebecca Kaiser Gibson explores the linkages between the uncomfortable familiar and the curiously intimate strange, making unexpected connections between phenomena. Arranged by association rather than chronology and connected by a sensual intelligence, this collection wanders from Maryland and India to Boston, France, New Hampshire and Ireland—from Ezekiel’s Flight and the Book of Kells, to the Tamil goddess, Meenakshi.
Luna Luna Magazinehttp://www.lunalunamagazine.com/blog/rebecca-gibson-opinel
The poems’ structure range from neat tercets to indented spheres hovering within the pages, lifting as if to take off to the outer parts of space. They are like jewels–incredibly beautiful and neat yet its mysteriousness is exactly what makes it so tantalizing.
author of Ghost in a Red Hat
“I take it as a sign of ordinary/unknowns,” says the speaker in Rebecca Kaiser Gibson’s poem “On the Connecticut.” That’s the feel of her poems. Hard-edged and edgy, they look hard at the ordinary—a narcissistic mother, rhododendron buds, mushroom spores, suburban life in the fifties—and crack these scenes into shards of new understanding. In forms of fracture, Rebecca Gibson finds forms of preservation, a vision of what “emptied of remains, remains.”
In a world over obsessed with the visions of youth, Rebecca Kaiser Gibson’s poetry reminds us what we treasure in a mature voice: the extraordinary patience, the quiet resignations, an all-right-then-I’ll-show-you kind of intimacy, and a deep, reassuring sense of what matters, and why. A friendlier, kinder guide than Virgil, Gibson’s poems grant us entry into widening circles of pleasure and pain, life and loss, where—even if hope need not be abandoned, still the proximities are just out of reach. Avid witness to everything that finds an almost erotic animation in her world, from the mid-winter rhododendron, Cadaverous / stick-selves, hobbled, / bobbing, unable to desist, to the Rio-born Manchurian cat, the one in the bamboo (if it has no soul, then . . . ) to the giver of coconuts, in yellow necklace, / turban of sun, a singlet, blue, Gibson encourages us to reach / breathless at their breathing—such gestures, / the stretched neck, the slight breath. She’s the poet we need when we’re alone, which, you will notice, we are.
Sharply observed, intensely felt, and alive with crisp images and surprising diction, the poems of Opinel range over painful childhood memories, adult immersions in “foreign” cultures, and the mysteries at the heart of long-lasting, self-renewing love. In all Rebecca Kaiser Gibson weighs and sifts experience, assays it not only for its worth, but also for its hints about undiscovered meanings and complexities of feeling. The sturdy, all-purpose peasant knife that gives this collection its title turns out to be an image of the poet’s mind at work, an instrument that enables her to peel back the surfaces, restlessly hoping that a revelation might be here, vivid and real, in what she holds in her hands.
In a debut full-length collection named for a versatile peasant knife of the French Alps, Gibson, who teaches poetry at Tufts University, sets out to metaphorically “scrape leather,/ carve cheese, untangle vine,/ release trapped lambs, hack/ out ice, slice flesh.” The collection is full of impressions of childhood, India, nature, death, trauma, and the wonders of the commonplace. Watching the patrons and workers in a café, she writes, “I can hardly eat, I am so full/ of love for those/ who don’t know I love them.” Gibson also celebrates the beauty of growing older as she ponders “the age spots/ I’ve just noticed on my arm/ like sprinkled cinnamon, a sweet touch,/ received.” She reveals her talents for finding the moments when nature becomes a mirror for love: “I’ll dream of you, the swallows still/ the purple shield of wheat fields hushed.” Alternating between conversational and ornate diction, Gibson observes the quotidian and draws moments of clarity from cacophonous swirls of sensuous and penetrating language.
Rebecca Kaiser Gibson grew up in Maryland, lives in Marlborough, New Hampshire, and teaches poetry at Tufts University. In 2008, she received the Artist Fellowship in Poetry from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. A previous resident at the MacDowell Colony and The Heinrich Boll Cottage in Ireland, in 2011 she received a Fulbright Fellowship to teach poetry in Hyderabad, India. Her poems have been published in Agni, Antigonish, The Boston Phoenix, Field, The Greensboro Review, The Harvard Review, MARGIE, Mothering, Northwest Review, Pleiades, Salamander, Slate, The Adroit Journal, 236 Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, Tupelo’s 30/30 project, the Taos Journal of International Poetry & Art, reprinted in an anthology called Cadence of Hooves, and featured on Verse Daily. She has previously published two chapbooks—Admit the Peacock and Inside the Exhibition.