June 1959 - 23rd June 2015
John Geoffrey Gibbens was born on The Wirral in 1959; very much the youngest
of three brothers. John's father, Geoffrey G Gibbens, studied at Oxford
before becoming an English teacher. After a spell in Wallasey, he moved to
Germany to teach at British Forces schools during John's early childhood
before settling in West Cumbria, which provided the settings for many of
John met Armorel Weston in the Lakes when he was 15.'When I met him he was
all beauty and silent contemplation', she has said. She later became his
lifelong creative partner.
Having resolutely decided to become a poet at a young age, John dropped out
of Wyndham School and in 1977 travelled in Europe, finding a home in Deia,
Mallorca where he worked in one of the local bars, meeting Robert Graves and
a community of creative musicians, artisans and writers.
In 1978 John returned to the UK, moving to London, where John and Armorel set
up home, sharing not only in the body of his art but John also helping in the
raising of Armorel's children, Esme and John. His ability to reflect both the
lightness and darkness of living came into John's poetry from his sensitive
intellect as well as from the daily challenges of family life, and the struggle
to survive as a poet.
John's mother Elizabeth had taught Journalism at Wyndham Comprehensive School
in Egremont and passed on her skills to John: he deployed them in London,
working firstly as a typesetter and later as a respected journalist on numerous
major magazines and papers, including
Private Eye, The Oldie, The Times, The Independent, The Telegraph (for 12 years),
Financial Times and, lastly, The Wall Street Journal.
In 1981 he became the youngest poet to receive an Eric Gregory Award. However,
he remained aloof from the wider poetry scene, seeming to prefer looking out
from the shadows whilst at the same time engaging with a wider community of
artists, travellers and storytellers and always writing prolifically through
the cycles of submissions and rejections.
Despite this, John's poems were published in Poetry Review, Ostinato,
Agenda, Fire and many other magazines, and anthologies devoted to Elvis Presley,
The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Edward Thomas, bicycles and peace, subjects with
which he was deeply connected. His visual poetry was included in The
Reality Street Book of Sonnets in 2008 and the exhibition Visual Poetics at
The Poetry Library (Royal Festival Hall) in 2013.
John's Collected Poems were published in 2000 by Touched Press. 'If
you care about English language poetry and want to discover one of this
generation's best poets ahead of the crowd, buy this book,' Tony Grist wrote
in New Hope International Review, and Michael Horovitz
referred to it as 'A magnificent book', while John Mingay wrote in Stride, 'I can do
little else but heap praise on Gibbens for his impeccable diction and use of
language which holds surprises round every corner and is never at ease with
Smokestack Books published Orpheus Ascending in 2012. Like Rilke,
Cocteau, Tennessee Williams, Salman Rushdie and Nick Cave before him, Gibbens
recasts the Orpheus myth in contemporary terms: this time in a strangely
altered version of the London music scene in the late 1980s, a retro-future
where violent unrest meets government
backlash, and where pastoral idyll becomes a refuge from the currents
John launched a series entitled The Inkjet Books in 2002,
eventually numbering a couple of dozen titles; amongst them are several
After 10 years of work John published The Nightingale's Code (2001) with original
photographs by Keith Baugh (Touched Press, 2001), an
in-depth poetic study of Bob Dylan. Amongst other praise, a reviewer in Kirkus
UK wrote, 'John Gibbens's passionate advocacy of one of the 20th
century's greatest popular artists belongs among the best Dylan books', and
Paula Radice called it 'A gem amongst a lot of current fibreglass... essential
reading', in Freewheelin', while Emma Hagestadt in The Independent commented on its quality of
'Perception without pretension... studded with sharp images and insights'.
The creative partnership with Armorel Weston resulted in the band The Children, featuring music written by
John and Armorel, which they recorded and performed over 12 years. Their
debut album was Play (1999), and subsequent
releases included Come Aboard and Rockingham
Street (2002), Love Walk (2003), Equals (2007) and the
double album Memory of Grace (2012).
John's only solo album, Songs from the Red Note Book, appeared in 2014,
and a recording of improvised music with Armorel and poet and clarinettist
David Miller was released as Treetop Songs by The Mind Shop in 2008.
Details and sample recordings can be found on www.touched.co.uk (a website
built by John, with a Lay for each day till 5 days before his death, the last
poem being a song from the first album Play: ÔMeanwhile I'm Alive').
John has left a legacy of 15 years of poetry since the Collected Poems were published,
and over 100 songs yet to be released.
© A. W. 2015