Connemara Moonshine, : by Mark Gibbons, 136 pgs. By Sean Carswell

Apr 13, 2011

I normally try to stay away from books of poetry. There’s generally something so self-indulgent about it; and it’s often so vague or personal that it’s impossible to break through the barriers and actually understand anything about the poem. So I was hesitant about reading Connemara Moonshine. I started reading it only because it came well-recommended by two different friends of mine, and I respect both of their tastes in books. And, when you get right down to it, I like poetry when it’s done well. Just because it’s done well so infrequently doesn’t mean that I should give up on the whole art form.

So I started to read Connemara Moonshine with the sense that it better be fucking great or I was gonna stop reading after two poems. I read the whole book. I’ve read half of the poems two or three times. I have to give Gibbons credit. His poems are unique and fun to read. In a sense, Gibbons is a very masculine poet. His brevity is due less to his desire to have you pause and admire his pretty phrases and is due more to his quiet, wise way of talking. His says what he needs to say—he makes you understand—and he says no more. And it works. Most of the poems in Connemara Moonshine are anecdotes about life in Montana. They’re full of the depth and beauty of the Montana wilderness. They tell stories about Gibbons working for a moving company, or sneaking into his big sister’s room to listen to her forty-fives, or his big brother picking on him when they bury their childhood dog, or hanging out at his friend’s outdoor wedding reception, watching an owl attack and eat a gopher. Through these poems, we get to visit Gibbons tough-ass Aunt Ernie and hang out with old-timers who say and do wise things. They don’t teach us lessons so much as they give is different eyes through which to look at the world. Reading through these poems, I not only got a sense of how Gibbons sees the world, but also how he came to see the world that way, who his influences are, what he’s seen, what he’s done. It’s an impressive collection.

It’s also a strange collection to review in Razorcake because it’s got nothing to do with punk rock. In fact, from the few allusions to music that Gibbons makes, I can tell that he and I would have to ride in the truck with the radio turned off. Still, I’ve also heard that Gibbons is a DIY kinda guy. According to the guys who passed this book on to me, Gibbons made a name for himself by self-publishing his poems in chapbooks and doing readings, selling his stuff to independent bookstores, and basically travelling around Montana, spreading his words. On top of that, Connemara Moonshine is the first book from a promising independent book publisher out of Seattle, Camphorweed Press. So, yeah, again, I do try to stay away from poetry, but Connemara Moonshine really opened my eyes, reaffirmed some faith in the art form for me, and was a damn good read. –Sean Carswell (Camphorweed Press, PO Box 2326, Seattle, WA98111)