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Friday, Sep 29, 2023

One in 8,700 - 4/22

The first present Leonard Gibbs remembers getting from his father was Louis Untermeyer’s anthology of poetry. Born in Georgia, Gibbs moved to Great Valley, Va. at the age of five. The Blue Ridge Mountains inspired Gibbs, and when he and his wife settled in Panton, Vt. seven years ago, he was glad the mountains moved, too.

“We have 10 acres of land and live right next to a dairy farm,” said Gibbs. “The Vermont smell surrounds me.”

A retired minister, Gibbs now spends his time writing poetry. He worked with the Presbyterian Church for 30 years and believes he fell into the position, inheriting the job from his ancestor after earning a doctorate in theology from Boston University. Poetry is now his occupation, and Gibbs wakes up at four each morning to write. He stares out his kitchen window and watches the sun rise over Snake Mountain, and he has found this to be his favorite time and place to work.

“A poet is someone who writes poetry,” said Gibbs. “Some people are doctors, some people are septic tank cleaners and some, like me, choose to be poets.”

Although Gibbs has not memorized much of his poetry, he can still recite the first one he wrote because it has lived with him for over 60 years. Gibbs says he has written 1,500 poems throughout his career, but only 10 of them are quality pieces. He believes the style and the message of a poem must match and only when the two work together is an effective poem born.

“A poet has to combine his personality, make-up and mindset in order to write,” said Gibbs.

The Panton resident enjoys writing structured poetry, like sonnets and haikus, and using iambic pentameter; however, he crafts free-verse poems as well. Gibbs has written about 320 sonnets, mostly when he had what he calls “sonnet-disease,” but he believes only two of the them are worth reading. Although Gibbs’ background is in philosophy and theology, his poetry is mostly humorous. Many of his pieces are also based on his mood. If the sun comes up and it is a nice day, Gibbs’ poems tend to be light and fun, but when it is cloudy, Gibbs says his poems tend to be darker.

“Yes, I call myself a poet, but I am not a very good one,” said Gibbs. “And I still don’t completely know why I started writing, but I don’t think anyone has the answer to that question yet.”

A member of the Poetry Society of Vermont and of the Otter Creek Poets, as well as the monthly columnist for the Addison Independent’s Poet’s Corner, Gibbs keeps himself busy. Unfortunately, the Poetry Society meets far away from Gibbs’ Panton home and he has not seen the group in some time. The members work together to critique each other’s work. Gibbs says the group members encourage each other, but they also are not afraid to “smash” someone’s poem when it needs it.

Besides hosting poetry workshops, the society publishes The Mountain Troubadour, a publication featuring poems from each of the 60 members in the group.

Normally, the Otter Creek Poets meet on Thursday afternoons at the Ilsley Public Library, and each of the 30 members who regularly show up has five minutes to read a poem of his or her choosing. The poets share their work, and then make and take suggestions. However, in honor of Poetry Month, Gibbs was asked to select and read 16 of his poems. He chose pieces that represent a variety of poetry styles because Gibbs also sees himself as a teacher. The selected poems show the progression of Gibbs’ poetry career thus far. Four other community members, carefully chosen by Gibbs, read his poems as well.

“A good reader has a strong clear voice and he believes in the poem,” said Gibbs. “He must know the poem, and put his heart into it, so the poem’s message gets across to the audience.”

A few years ago Gibbs entered “A Prairie Home Companion’s” Bed of Roses Love Sonnet contest. Out of the 4,000 applications, he was selected as one of the top 30 candidates. The Addison Independent interviewed Gibbs and wrote an article about his recent success. While there, Gibbs told the paper he was interested in writing a column for them, and The Addison Independent agreed. Each month, he selects another poet’s work, and he often chooses pieces written by other members of the Otter Creek Poets. Gibbs writes a brief biographical sketch of the poet, followed by his own interpretation of the piece.

“This column in mostly for my buddies,” he said. “But I have selected pieces by great poets of the past, as well.”
Gibbs plans to continue writing poetry and enjoying his beloved Vermont mountains.