“Old Orchard Beach Cycle: Poems” by Robert Gibbons; Littoral Books, Portland, Maine, 2022; 122 pages, paperback, $20.

Robert Gibbons says in the interview appended to his book “Old Orchard Beach Cycle” that he views his poetry as “a transcription of immediate experience.” Well, it is that, but what you discover too is that “immediate experience” covers a lot of territory.

The basic point you need to know going into these poems is that Gibbons, now in his 70s and living in Old Orchard, has traveled and moved around a lot in his life. The highlight of his work life seems to have been at the National Gallery of Art in D.C., along with similar gigs in Massachusetts. But starting with childhood summers in Biddeford, he kept gravitating to Maine, including various sojourns in Portland and “three-and-a-half years … of what seemed like virtual exile” in Waterville.

“Old Orchard Beach Cycle” is a day-by-day account in poems of his life during the pandemic year 2021 spent in Old Orchard with his wife, Kathleen. Poems about walks on the beach and pier; weather; surfers; recollections of adventures and friends in Europe; quirky observations of people and incidents inside and outside the house; a neighborhood family of plovers; playful allusions to the arts, especially postmodern poet-heroes such as Pablo Neruda, Federico Garcia Lorca, Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova and Charles Olson, the influential poet from Gloucester, Massachusetts.

The key word in this summary might be “playful.” Virtually every poem in “Old Orchard Beach Cycle” is a kind of buoy built from a whole dimension of playfulness, as for example in these lines depicting a beach walk:


Love seeing those kids romp unmasked


maybe for the first time in a crowd

since the start of the pandemic!!

There’s no stopping them


There’s an upbeatness even in more somber poems about political corruption and death. “An End to the Pendulum” starts with “I lay there all night / with Covid-19 trying / to conjure up the good times,” swings back and forth between thoughts of anguish, joy and mortality, then finally concludes: “The value of love / cannot be / countermanded.”

Again and again throughout the collection, poems conclude on not just a light or lighter or even humorous note, but on a certain uplift of immediate consciousness—like “the value of love.” “Grounded in Grace,” about the shadows cast by a bare November ash tree, closes:



Yet grounded in grace,

without for a moment forgetting the light

makes those shadows.


This seems like a simple thought, and it is, but it’s also exactly the kind of illumination we find in the poetry of many mystics — a glimpse of divine light in a simple image. Thinking, for example, of Rumi’s dust grains dancing in the light near the window, or of St. Francis’s little birds. Usually that image is suffused with an extraordinary, cosmic lightheartedness.


I spent my readings of “Old Orchard Beach Cycle” feeling Robert Gibbons walks around Old Orchard getting the same glimpses. If not the profound religious revelations of Rumi or St. Francis, nonetheless glints growing out of the same experiential disposition — everyday, winking epiphanies of reality, in nature, people, pens, memories and conditions of light. W.B. Yeats described how whole civilizations are built or lost on the presence or absence of the very kind of ancient, glittering gaiety found here.

“Old Orchard Beach Cycle” can buoy you through whatever is happening, the way it’s buoyed me this winter, and its author through the pandemic.

Gibbons’ other collections include “To Know Others, Various & Free,” “Traveling Companion” and “This Time,” published by Nine Point Publishing of Bridgton, among others. “Old Orchard Beach Cycle” is available through local book sellers and online from Littoral Books.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections the first Friday of each month. Dana Wilde is a member of the National Book Critics Circle. Contact him at dwilde.offradar@gmail.com.

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