Gustaf Sobin

Picture of Author Gustaf Sobin
Author photo, 1990, by Tony Frazer.

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About the author

Gustaf Sobin (pronounced SOHbin, 1935–2005) was an American expatriate poet, long resident in Provence. He was born in Boston into a prosperous family, and graduated from Brown University in 1957, having already by that time travelled much and having visited Hemingway in Cuba. In 1962, perhaps seeking to emulate Hemingway's earlier example, he moved to France, meeting René Char in his first days in Paris, a poet whose work he greatly admired and whose poetry was to have a great influence on his own. It was Char who suggested that Sobin go to Provence, and go there he did, settling not far from Char's home town of L'isle sur Sorgue in a small hamlet a couple of kilometres from Goult, between Gordes and Bonnieux in the Lubéron. He was able to purchase an old silk cocoonery with a small family bequest, and then to live frugally on a small trust fund, while trying to find his way as a writer. In 1968 he married Susannah Bott, an English painter. For the rest of his life he and his wife (and, during their school years) their two children were to live in this old building, intermittently extended when necessity arose. Sobin was eventually to build himself a small cabanon some 50 yards along a tree-lined path, where he could write, always standing up.

It took Gustaf Sobin some years before he was to find his poetic voice, and it was only in 1972 that he wrote what he considered to be his first poem. Some pamphlets of his work appeared in the 1970s, but he was taken up by Eliot Weinberger's pioneering magazine Montemora in the latter part of the decade and Montemora went on to publish his first two collections, Wind Chrysalid's Rattle and Celebration of the Sound Through. After Montemora's closure he was taken on by New Directions, which was to publish his next three collections, including the particularly important volume The Earth as Air. He subsequently moved to Talisman House which published his three final collections, as well as a Selected Poems titled By the Bias of Sound. Sobin also published four novels, including Venus Blue (Bloomsbury, 1991) and the very successful The Fly-Truffler (Norton, 1999), in addition to a superb collection of essays, Luminous Debris, subtitled Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc. A posthumous collection of essays has since appeared, as has a short volume containing the completed parts of what would have been the third essay volume. Talisman House published the Collected Poems in 2010. It should however be noted that this latter volume — large as it is — does no more than assemble all the poems from the previous main publications, leaving out poems that were in bibliophile editions, chapbooks and otherwise outside the main curve of Sobin's career. This is unfortunate, and much remains to be rescued, if one is to have a full picture of Sobin's work.

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