The Vigil: A Poem in Four Voices

Gibson, Margaret

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Annotated by:
Dittrich, Lisa
  • Date of entry: Dec-17-1996


The "four voices" of this collection are Lila, her grown daughters Jennie and Sarah, and Jennie's daughter, Kate, whom Sarah has raised as her own. Sarah is a potter, and she gathers the women of the family together each year for the "vigil" of the wood-kiln firing of the pots she and her assistants have made during the year.

What the voices reveal is the story of, in Gibson's words, "three generations in a family shaped by alcoholism"--that is, the alcoholism of Jennie and Sarah's father, who is now dying in a hospice. Each woman holds secrets, and they reveal the secrets to the reader and, slowly, to each other as the story unfolds--secrets about the death of Jennie and Sarah's brother, about Jennie and Sarah's relationship to Kate, and about Kate's pregnancy.


The poems (or poem) form a novelistic whole, and are best read or studied together; however, some of the poems might be read out of context if one wishes to examine a particular issue by itself. What becomes clear when the poems are read together, however, is how alcoholism affects an entire family, and how a family can conspire together to enable the alcoholic, in spite of the pain it causes them. A major theme of the book is the price of silence, denial, and lies--and how healing can begin when a family can openly express its feelings and look honestly at itself. Jennie's former attitude about her father's drinking--"Let him drink--he only hurts himself"--is exploded in these pages.


First published: 1991


Louisiana State Univ. Press

Place Published

Baton Rouge