Waking Up to the Earth with Connecticut Poet Laureate Margaret Gibson

by Alexander Mika, ’21 (CLAS)

Professor Emerita and Connecticut Poet Laureate Margaret Gibson will be releasing two new books this year: an anthology of environmental poetry edited by Gibson called Waking Up to the Earth and a new collection of her own poems called The Glass Globe, her thirteenth book of poems. I recently had the honor of speaking with her about these projects and her work. 

Profile image of Professor Emerita Margaret Gibson
© Photo by Mara Lavitt
June 12, 2020
Preston, CT
Poet Margaret Gibson at home in Preston, CT.

Responsibilities of a Poet Laureate

AM: What are some of your personal ethics and principles that have guided you with this position? 

MG: One tends to think of the Poet Laureate position as primarily honorary, and it’s really not. There is an expectation, not only for oneself, but also from the poetry office and from poets in Connecticut, that the State Poet Laureate will be an impetus for poetic activity within the state. I wanted to pick a theme to focus on that was not just personal, but also social, so I selected “poetry and the environment in a time of global climate crisis.” I wanted to lift up that issue, that urgency of encouraging poets to write about the fragility of the environment. In a kind of blessing of good timing, I applied for and received a grant to Poets Laureate from the Academy of American Poets. The grant is for my work and for personal development, but a portion of it is set aside for programs I want to sponsor or initiate. 

AM: What sort of programs are you sponsoring? 

MG: My initial intent was to help establish five or six green poetry cafes and to invite  Connecticut poets to read poetry or do workshops in those cafes. Along came the pandemic, so that closed down live readings except for careful, socially distanced events in the summer, but there are still some online initiatives and virtual readings. In another project, we filmed poets reading out in the open in land preserves. I also wanted to put together an anthology of poems about the environment, and Grayson Books in Hartford agreed to publish it.  We sent out a call for poets to send in poems having to do with the global climate crisis. We defined “the natural world” very broadly so that it would include environmental injustice as well as social or racial and cultural injustice. It represents over sixty poets in Connecticut. I wrote the introduction, I made the selection of poets, and I’m in the process of setting up readings, mostly on Zoom at this point because we’re still sequestered because of COVID.  The anthology comes out in April, 2021. 


Waking Up to the Earth: Connecticut Poets in a Time of Global Climate Crisis

AM: How did you publicize the call for submissions? How many pieces did you receive? 

MG: We sent it out as broadly as we could and asked the town poet laureates to publicize it, as well.  We notified various literary networks in multicultural and social and academic environments.  I ended up reading thousands of poems. Ginny Lowe Connors and I agreed that we would not try to publish a doorstop of a book–so many poems that the book’s too heavy to carry.  It’s going to be an anthology of about 120 pages. Most of the poets are represented with just one poem, but there are a few who have two poems. I was really pleased with the quality of the poetry, the variety and the breadth of attention.

AM: What informed your selection process for this anthology? How did you organize it?  

MG: Well, of course, authenticity of voice, vibrancy, concision of language, originality of image and focus, depth of thinking. If you read the anthology straight through, there’s a sense of an unfolding narrative and a kind of linkage. There are no sections. I didn’t want division. There are poems that begin the anthology which have a detailed focus on individual living organisms, the poet paying close attention. Then, the darker notes of the climate crisis begin to come in, then other poems consider what might be done to alter the progression of climate change.  And toward the end of the anthology, there are poems that offer visions of what the future might look like if we don’t wake up and make changes. There are poems whose material is political and social, and there are poems which are celebratory.  I also wanted the anthology to be representative and inclusive of a diverse range of voices. 

AM: In the introduction, you mention the word “humility” and that the authors have all sought a humbler relationship with the earth. What are some ways in which you have pursued that relationship, yourself? 

MG: Well, “humility”, as I pointed out in the introduction, is related at its root to the word “humus:” the ground, the earth. So, by a humbler relationship, it means a more grounded relationship. It means a more equitable relationship. The natural world is not here to support just the human species, but all of us. I think our species of humans has egotistically focused on our own. We’re all here to survive and to be happy and to thrive, but not at the expense of others because if you personally thrive and do damage, that damage will eventually come home to you. Why do I want human beings to continue? Because they write poems and write beautiful music and because one of our unique qualities is that human beings have speech. And as a poet, I would just hate to see words vanish, which is what happens at the end of my poem, “Irrevocable.” It’s a great loss we’re looking at if we don’t get to work.

AM: How will you be promoting the release of the book? 

MG: We’re just beginning to set these things up, but we have a lot of exciting events planned. I sent out a letter to all of the poets who are published in the anthology and said, “Look, we are now a family. We are all bonded together because we’re in this anthology.” Some of the poets teach, and might include the anthology in courses. All of them will, I hope, get invited here and there to read. And I’m hoping that they will also set up readings and events and videos and Zooms. Grayson Books in Hartford is a not-for-profit press. They do beautiful books and I think this one will be really lovely. We don’t have a big advertising budget, but I think with the enthusiasm of the poets and the pleasure, frankly, of gathering to read together, the book will make its way. 


The Glass Globe

AM: How did you decide on the title? I know there’s a poem in the collection called “The Glass Globe,” but how did you decide that it should be the title of the book? 

MG: Choosing a title can be really hard, but sometimes I actually have the title for the book in mind very early on, and it’s helpful because I can then write with a certain kind of focus. With this book, I had to wait and sort of see what evolved. “The Glass Globe” focuses on a glass globe that is in my house. It’s a hand-blown, beautiful, luminous glass globe that rests on a table right by the window. It gets lots of light and you can see the natural world through it. I had written about that globe years ago in an essay. This is kind of remarkable, but I was rereading that essay about a couple of weeks before doing a little housework, and I picked up the globe and put it down too hard. It cracked, but it didn’t fall apart. And because it had been something in my father’s family and I’d seen it since I was a little girl, I was very attached to it. I started writing this poem about my own clumsiness, and the words from the other essay got incorporated into the poem. The action of breaking it got incorporated into the poem. My late husband’s death got incorporated into the poem. All of those elements that are present in many of the poems in this collection kind of got woven in, along with a focus on human decisions that have damaged the Earth, so it felt right to title the book The Glass Globe. 


Interwoven Themes

AM: Your poem, “Irrevocable,” is featured in both Waking Up to the Earth and The Glass Globe, and both books come out in 2021 (April and August, respectively). Did the processes for both books inform one another in any ways? Was there any overlap? 

MG: The manuscript for The Glass Globe was done and actually in production when I started reading for the anthology. I’m still in the editing process, but the manuscript was completed. I chose “Irrevocable,” which was originally published in The Gettysburg Review, after I selected the anthology pieces; I waited to see what poem of mine might best fit in. With the fact that I’ve been focused on my relationship with nature for years, wanting to do the anthology is a kind of natural outgrowth of my own work, but also of my position as poet Laureate, which as I said, is intended in part to extend inspiration and invitation to other poets in Connecticut. So, in that sense, the anthology is an extension of both public and private work of mine.