Gustaf Sobin

An American born in Boston in 1935, Sobin moved to the south of France as a young man to study independently with René Char and Martin Heidegger, and spent the rest of his life there. New Directions published three books of poetry, The Earth as Air (1984); Voyaging Portraits (1988); and Breath’s Burials (1995); and his translation of Henri Michaux’s Ideograms in China (1984). Other poetry volumes include By the Bias of Sound: Selected Poems 1974–1994; Toward the Blanched Alphabets; and The Places as Preludes. His novels are Venus Blue; Dark Mirrors: A Novel of Provence; The Fly-Truffler; and In Pursuit of a Vanishing Star. He is the author of an extraordinary archeological meditation in two volumes, Luminous Debris: Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc, and Ladder of Shadows. Sobin died in 2005.

Breaths’ Burials

Poetry by Gustaf Sobin

The poems in Gustaf Sobin’s newest collection, Breaths’ Burials, establish a dialogue with silence. Breath, its syllables buried in the resonant space between the word and the void, unlocks “the gloriole, the ring of things released.” Whether Sobin is writing about irises, Venetian architecture, or the wind-blown plateaus of his adopted Provence, his poems are not more nor less than a search in the redemptive, celebrating the regeneration of language out of itself.…
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Voyaging Portraits

Poetry by Gustaf Sobin

Gustaf Sobin’s Voyaging Portraits is the newest collection by the American poet and longtime resident of Provence. The voice of these poems is the voyager, moving across a landscape that is both physical and existential, and the portraits it continually casts hover at the precarious limits of language. The book is laid out in five sections. “Of Neither Wind nor Anemones,” set in the Mediterranean basin, introduces the work’s major theme: the poem’s quest for its own hidden imagery across the shifting ground of the evocable.…
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The Earth As Air

Poetry by Gustaf Sobin

“Earth, the dense element of our residence, our realities, raised, heightened, transformed––by language alone––into its spacious complement: air”––with this succinct remark Gustaf Sobin suggests his intentions in his newest collection. Word chases word in the poet’s search for the transcendent. In lyric transformation, the poems in The Earth as Air arise out of the particular, the graphic, the intensely perceived, turning experience into the weightless particles of a new, intellective music.…
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Ideograms in China

by Henri Michaux

Translated from the French by Gustaf Sobin

With a contribution by Richard Sieburth

Allen Ginsberg called Michaux a genius, and Jorge Luis Borges said that his work is without equal in the literature of our time. Henri Michaux (1899-1984) wrote Ideograms in China as an introduction to Leon Chang’s La calligraphie chinoise (1971), a work that now stands as an important complement to Ezra Pound and Ernest Fenollosa’s classic study, The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry. Previously available only as a limited edition, Ideograms in China is a long, gorgeously illustrated and annotated prose poem containing a very deep consideration of the world’s oldest living language.…
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Gustaf Sobin is a master of hoverings, hesitances, etched definitions of movement, soundings, fine measurings of air. He leads the mind into a poetry of great distinction, awakening the spirit to a world of errant clarities renewed.
—Robert Duncan
The physicality which Sobin brings to poetry is not that of inert chunks of words on a page, but of organic matter in motion.
—Geoffrey O’Brien, Village Voice Literary Supplement
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