Pittsburghese, Robert Gibb’s latest book of poems, is a work of poignant remembrance, filled with revelations found in the everyday “debris of paradise.” The collection is anchored by personal and public histories, the city’s “consensus things” and “standard archaeologies,” as well as by music—jazz, blues, R&B and gospel—“sweet rebuttal” to the world’s “cold hymns.” Throughout, motifs function like the thorns on the jaggers—Pittsburghese for brambles—whose points engage the reader “one by one.” Other poems elegize the great buildings and working stiffs of the city’s industrial past, celebrating its artifacts and artworks, the “necessary mystery” of its trees and wild creatures. Particulars of a world in which dialect is the alembic, the means of expression and the shapes it takes on as well—habitation and name.
Robert Gibb is the author of Sightlines, his thirteenth full-length poetry collection and winner of the 2019 Prize Americana for Poetry. Other books include Among Ruins, which won Notre Dame’s Sandeen Prize in Poetry for 2017; After, which won the Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize for 2016; and The Origins of Evening, which was a National Poetry Series selection. He has been awarded two NEA Fellowships, a Best American Poetry Prize, a Pushcart Prize, and Prairie Schooner’s Glenna Luschei and Strousse Awards.
Pittsburghese is the language spoken in the pages of this poet’s singular concoction, a mix of keen musicality and uncommon sagacity that wound itself purposely and sinuously through my imagination like the twisty hills and bridges of its hometown. In the tradition of learning the sacred, secret loves of a burnished and bellowed metropolis, this poet’s voice masterfully testifies to neighborhoods and lives doused in enough heat to melt but then forged in enough wry and heart-busted love to craft the wiry steel of these poems. —Tyehimba Jess, author of Olio, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry
Robert Gibb’s Pittsburghese is an impressive homage to the “iron” city of Pittsburgh, its culture, its people, its industrial past of steel production, its subsequent economic decline, and its hard-won resurgence. Meditations, elegies, and ekphrastic pieces abound in which the poet renders in potent lyricism the “mills’ brutal music,” a muscular counterpoint to William Wordsworth’s “the still, sad music of humanity” from “Tintern Abbey.” Like Wordsworth, Gibb is a consummate poet of personal memory, specifically of his childhood and youth in nearby Homestead with its “crowded rows of houses [and] Steel mills billowing / Identical plumes of smoke.” His language is elegant and precise, rich with inventive images, such as the “auroras of white-hot scoria” of the blast furnaces. Gibb is the bard par excellence of Pittsburgh. —Orlando Ricardo Menes, author of The Gospel of Wildflowers and Weeds
Gibb’s poems are so natural in their tone that they might seem like someone, anyone, just talking; that is, if anyone but Gibb could have a genius for lyric precision, a painter’s eye for detail, an impeccable ear for the music of his native dialect, and an unbearable grief born from the awareness of losing everything that matters to him a little at a time. —Michael Simms, Plume Poetry