By Gabriela Laracca
Robert Gibb, KU alumnus and published poet, read for a diverse audience of students, professors and community members at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Nov. 11 in the Grim Planetarium.
During the event, he read from a collection of poems entitled “The Burning World” that are featured in his book, “The Homestead Trilogy.” Beneath a starry night projection, he read these works by lamplight while discussing the life-experiences that inspired them.
Dr. Phillip Reed, director of the planetarium and observatory, used software called “nightshade” to create the projection. Comprised of over two weeks of recorded sky motion, the stars moved in slow rotation throughout the reading.
Gibb read from a stand in the center of the planetarium, surrounded by the audience on all sides. No microphone was used as he read directly and personally for his listeners.
Dr. Andrew Vogel, chair of the English department, said that the lack of artificial amplification created “a really powerful experience, more powerful than an amplified voice because [with amplification] there is always a measure of distortion.”
The location of the reading made for an “intimate” experience, according to Vogel and other audience members. The reading “gave the planetarium a very nice atmosphere of its own; it illuminated my imagination,” said Reed.
The setting also appealed to several students including Cody Oliver, senior professional writing major, who said “I had never gone to a reading in a planetarium before, and I found that the atmosphere made the whole experience even more enjoyable.”
Although currently a successful and published poet, Gibb originally intended to become a painter with his KU fine arts degree. “I had a sketch pad and I noticed that I was writing poems on the back of sheets of the drawings,” said Gibb. He said this went on until he realized what his true passion was.
While many writers struggle through the pursuit of success, the English department holds events such as these to help students push on. The goal was to “give our student writers/aspiring writers a model so that they can see that it’s possible,” said Vogel.
This goal of the reading rang true to students. Lauren Sobczak, president of KU’s English Club, said that events like these could help inspire struggling artists of all fields, helping to dispel feelings of uncertainty spread by individuals who believe studying the arts is useless or is without employment opportunities. “To
have somebody come back [who is] this successful and is so passionate about the occupation, I think it’s really inspiring,” she said.
Gibb motivated other students to follow him in his writing.
“After the reading, I felt very inspired and I actually ended up channeling that inspiration into a poem of my own the next morning that might be some of my best work,” said Oliver.
Gibb’s final bit of advice for aspiring writers was to “just be serious about what you do—it’s easy to be distracted.”
Gibb has been awarded for his works with a Pushcart Prize as well as being selected for the National Poetry Series in 1997 for his compilation of poems entitled “The Origins of Evening,” featured alongside “The Burning World” and “World over Water” in “The Homestead Trilogy.”
He graduated from KU with a BFA (1971) after serving in the Air Force. He later received an MFA (1974) from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and a MA (1976) and PhD (1986) from Lehigh University.
Both Reed and Vogel plan to continue featuring readings in the planetarium due to the great turnout and success of this event.