On Raymond Gibson’s Meridian by B.C.A. Belcastro

Plenty of poems have arguments, but few claim to present any sort of conclusion. Raymond Gibson’s Meridian carefully arranges its poems to present a kind of investigation, opening with an unfamiliar world that gradually resolves into a series of short, image-driven leads and finally closes with the stark assertions of his “Conclusion.” “Presence,” on the first page, opens with


you are not here
and neither am I 

here is between us


as though it were a crime or an unnatural occurrence. The tension here drives readers onward as we trail Gibson in his attempts to make sense out of memories, emotions, happenings. We wind up here, in “Conclusion:”


you won’t meet the end elsewhere it will be
something brought with you


The chapbook is riven with opposition: “Presence” is the main attraction, a long poem broken into parts and woven between shorter pages that draw stark attention to length and continuity. As a word, “Meridian” is difficult to pin down, with numerous definitions and a long etymological history originating in French, but everywhere the term makes reference to a dividing line: where does Gibson draw his own meridian, and what does it divide? The book doesn’t give us a clear answer—mirroring Gibon’s investigation into the self, the reader is following a trail of clues as they seek the boundaries of a secret geography. Through careful arrangement, Gibson presents a single continuous poem that delves into self-knowledge and introspection while the smaller stop-gaps in-between are images from outside the self: “Egg,” “Burn,” “Stars,” “Bear.”


Maybe it divides self and other, as Gibson makes constant reference to the vagaries of self-hood:


there isn’t any I
there isn’t any we 

only a self between

self subsumed in other
and other within self


or the boundaries of a particular relationship:


we part like curtains
should I keep trying

to meet you halfway


or perhaps the edge of the knowledge that the investigation seeks.


is nothing more durable
than this longing to

make some shape firm


Line-by-line, the poems are highly-enjambed; “Presence” falls into trimeter and scans easily while the short breaks take an open, explosive shape, giving the longer poem room to breathe. This isn’t padding—one can easily imagine an expansion of “Presence;” it hardly seems to exhaust its material. The lines of “Presence” benefit from being short but Gibson doesn’t quite impress the gravity of his subject, reaching for linguistic play that his lines are often too short to do justice to. Lines of “Presence” clock in at an average five syllables, which makes for an interesting creative challenge but proves difficult to work with, as in the first segment:


ink seeping into grain

as poem stitches through
us like bone buttons


Even the longer lines of short poems like “Sight” and “Further” present a typographical identity crisis, often presenting as two shorter lines separated by indentation, as in “Memories,”


we send scouts ahead

                                                and kill messengers


or breaking a single long line into two shorter lines, as in the last line of “Further:”


words maps minds                  minds make words


We can read this breakdown in the confidence of the line a few different ways, not only as speed bumps for the reader, but as a reference to the sense of loss that pervades Meridian, as a reference to the necessary in-between-ness of what a meridian is, breaking even solid units into smaller pieces.

“Conclusion” very nearly brings the poems’ divergent trends together. At a mere six lines, it’s one of the shortest, with its two standout lines right-aligned: “nothing ever ends / ... may arrows split each other.” The first alludes to the continuous stream of time, stretching the main poem’s length like a geometric ray past an artificial horizon; the second brings us back to division, split, meridian. We speak of time as having an arrow, and here Gibson wants two arrows (ostensibly flying in opposite directions) not to pulverize each other, or strike a target, but to split each other. What happens when the arrows split? As the last line, Gibson leaves us to imagine both why they ought to split and how it will change the world to split arrows in flight. I like to think that they continue, that the split is fractal, that one can further subdivide the splits. Perhaps this is Gibson admitting defeat, the failure of his investigation, or maybe he is trying to show us a different kind of answer. “Nothing ever ends...” is a clear assertion that the conclusion is inconclusive. In a way, this is a deeply unsatisfying final poem, a sort of cop-out (paradoxes are easy) but it inspires the confidence to re-read, to re-consider, and has won at least that much from me as a reader.

Encountering Meridian as a complete work makes the poems more than the sum of their parts. Individually, it is only really possible to imagine “Presence” existing outside of the work and in its own right, and at times it seems to cast doubt on its own substance. It wants to circle around a hollow center, saying in the middle:


spiraling in and back            

there is no outside
nor within only sides


The meter feels comfortable, though its careful observance does inspire the sense that Gibson was playing it safe, saving the more exceptional moments of expression for the shorter poems. Though we feel the presence of something beyond the poem and, in turn, the lack of certain presences, the chapbook thrives mostly on the hollow center, with the initial comfort of the meter turning a bit plastic through repetition and the enjambment occasionally interfering with it. Gibson’s aversion to stanzas and strophes provides a sense of progression and breathy speed, as he sticks almost entirely to couplets (or even single, isolated lines). There are points at which the attempts at wordplay and rhyme interrupt the flow:


non-breadth chase the line
reader writer please find           

me between these words


Ultimately, Meridian is a satisfying read that delivers on more than its basic conceit (a long poem divided by short poems). This is a solid effort with tight construction, obvious feeling, and an effective transference of personal experience to the reader. Though rough in a few spots, Gibson demonstrates a keen sense for the organization of book-length work; in circling around the center of his book he appears to break the central premise of its title but perhaps contributes a different understanding of division and substance.


B.C.A. Belcastro is an emerging poet, critic, and political organizer; he lives with friends in New York City.