Graywolf Poetry Tour: The Diaries

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Recently I was lucky to give a few readings around the country with Nick Flynn, D. A. Powell, and Mary Szybist as part of the first ever Graywolf Poetry Tour. At one point, on subsequent nights, we had scheduled stops at City Lights Bookstore and Harvard Bookstore. The only way to get from San Francisco to Cambridge, Massachusetts, in time for the Harvard event was to take a United Airlines red-eye that departed San Francisco International Airport at midnight.

 

I had a window seat on the flight. Exhausted from the City Lights reading just a couple of hours earlier, I leaned my head against the cool glass and dozed in and out of sleep. It was a cloudless night outside. Around 2:00 a.m. I opened my eyes and was stunned to see Minneapolis sparkling below, the Mississippi River slicing the city’s yellow grid of lights in half. I realized I was flying directly over my own house—over my own life—my wife and daughter asleep 30,000 feet beneath me.

 

This sensation would be odd under any circumstance. It was especially so given that my new book, It Becomes You, contains a somewhat cheeky poem titled (without apology to James Wright) “The Minneapolis Poem” that begins:

 

When I hear an airplane pass overhead

I sometimes imagine there are celebrated poets

reclining inside the pressurized cabin,

flying over me on their way back and forth

between New York and San Francisco

to give thrilling readings to one another

and afterward sip chablis and laugh

knowingly about books I’ve neither heard of nor read.

 

 

I wrote this poem several years ago never imagining it was possible I would be sent on a cross-country book tour—let alone one with poets the caliber of Mary, Nick, and Doug. In fact, the tour doesn’t feel any more probable even after I have lived through it.

 

One of the subjects my new book, It Becomes You, explores is the transformational opportunity every poem affords us: experience becoming poet, poem becoming reader. For me, the great pleasure of the Graywolf Poetry Tour was “becoming” Nick’s, Doug’s, and Mary’s poems every single night as their voices and cadences imprinted themselves on me, their poems’ syntax and imagery sinking deep into my brain’s memory centers. The great surprise of the tour, though, was discovering there was still room to “become” my own poems, but in ways—and from impossible altitudes—I never anticipated.

 

Dobby Gibson is the author of three books: Polar, which won the Beatrice Hawley Award; Skirmish; and It Becomes You. His work has appeared in many literary journals and anthologies and on public radio’s “All Things Considered” and “A Writer’s Almanac.” The recipient of fellowships from the McKnight Foundation and Jerome Foundation, he lives in Minneapolis.