Gustaf Sobin (November 15, 1935 – July 7, 2005) was a U.S.-born poet and author who spent most of his adult life in France. Originally from Boston, Sobin attended the Choate School, Brown University, and moved to Paris in 1962. Eventually he settled in the village of Goult, Provence, where he remained for over forty years, publishing more than a dozen books of poetry, four novels, a children's story, and two compilations of essays.
Sobin maintained his expatriate status until his death in July, 2005 of pancreatic cancer at the age of 69.
Life and work
After studies with René Char, Gustaf Sobin developed a poetic style that relies heavily on assonance and consonance, as well as other methods of the sonic organization of speech. He published many books across different genres: fiction, essays, and translations (including a translation of Henri Michaux's Ideograms in China, a prose poem about Chinese orthography). More recent translations include The Brittle Age and Returning Upland, two volumes from Char's work of the mid to late 1960s that Sobin chose to translate in full, published posthumously in 2009, side by side with Char's French text.
Among his many books are Breath's Burials (poetry, New Directions, 1995), Luminous Debris (1999) and Ladder of Shadows (2008) (essays, University of California Press), and Collected Poetry (2010). Among his works of fiction are the novels The Fly Truffler (about the art of truffle-hunting in Southern France), and In Pursuit of a Vanishing Star, which is a chronicle of a brief period of Greta Garbo's early acting career.
Gustaf Sobin was survived by his wife, Susannah Bott, his daughter Esther, his son Gabriel, an older brother Harris (now deceased), of Phoenix, Arizona, and his devoted cousin, Mikki Ansin of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Sobin's brother Harris, an architect and architectural historian, designed the rehabilitation of Gustaf Sobin's residence and two additions for a historic stone cocoonery in Provence, France.
- The Tale of the Yellow Triangle. With illustrations by Jolaine Meyer and text by Gustaf Sobin. G. Braziller (1973).
- Wind Chrysalid's Rattle. Montemora Foundation (1980).
- Caesurae: Midsummer. Blue Guitar Books (1981).
- Celebration of the Sound Through. Montemora Foundation (1982).
- The Earth as Air. New Directions (1984).
- Voyaging Portraits. New Directions (1988).
- Venus Blue: a Novel. Little Brown (1991).
- Dark Mirrors: a Novel of Provence. Bloomsbury (1992).
- By the Bias of Sound: Selected Poems, 1974-1994. Talisman House (1995).
- Breath’s Burials: Poems. New Directions (1995).
- Gustaf Sobin. A reading, February 7, 1996 in the Modern Languages Auditorium, sponsored by The University of Arizona Poetry Center.
- A World of Letters: Poems. Arcturus Editions (1998).
- Article of Light and Elation. Cadmus Editions (1998).
- Toward the Blanched Alphabets. Talisman House (1998).
- Luminous Debris: Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc. University of California Press (1999).
- The Fly-Truffler: a Novel. Norton (2000).
- Ideograms in China. Henri Michaux, translated from the French by Gustaf Sobin. New Directions (2002).
- In the Name of the Neither. Talisman House (2002).
- In Pursuit of a Vanishing Star: a Novel. Norton (2002).
- The Places as Preludes. Talisman House (2005).
- Ladder of Shadows: Reflecting on Medieval Vestige in Provence and Languedoc. University of California Press (2009).
- The Brittle Age and Returning Upland. Rene Char. Translated by Gustaf Sobin. Counterpath (2009).
- Aura: Last Essays. Counterpath (2009).
- The Earth As Air (New Directions, NY, 1984. 103pp, paperbound)
- Miniatures (Cadmus Editions, San Francisco, 1986: 200 copies, privately distributed)
- Voyaging Portraits (New Directions, NY, 1988. 121pp, pb)
- Breath's Burials (New Directions, NY, 1995. 101pp, pb)
- By the Bias of Sound: Selected Poems 1974-1994 (Talisman House, Jersey City, NJ, 1995. 169pp, pb)
- Towards the Blanched Alphabets (Talisman House, 1998. 123pp, h/c & pb)
- Articles of Light & Elation (Cadmus, 1998. 50pp)
- In the Name of the Neither (Talisman House, 2002. 57pp, pb)
- The Places as Preludes (Talisman House, 2005, 76pp, pb)
- Collected Poems (Talisman House, 2010, 756pp, pb)
- Prose, fiction & essays
- Venus Blue (Bloomsbury, London, 1991, out of print) - novel
- Dark Mirrors (Bloomsbury, 1992, out of print) - novel
- The Fly-Truffler (Norton, New York, 1999) - novel
- Luminous Debris: Reflecting on Vestige in Provence and Languedoc (University of California Press, 1999. 247pp, pb) - essays
- In Pursuit of a Vanishing Star (Norton, NY, 2002) - novel
- (translator) Ideograms in China by Henri Michaux; (New Directions, NY, 2002. 64pp, pb)
- Ladder of Shadows: Reflecting on Medieval Vestige in Provence and Languedoc (University of California Press, 2009. 208pp. pb, hc) - essays- companion volume to Luminous Debris
- University of Arizona Poetry Center,Words Through: a Tribute to Gustaf Sobin On the occasion of the publication of Sobin's Collected Poetry March 2010. This Bibliography was featured on this page. This tribute took place on Saturday, March 6, 2010, and featured Charles Alexander, Edward Foster, Andrew Joron, Tedi López Mills, Jeffrey Miller, Michael Palmer, Harris Sobin, and Andrew Zawacki
- Obituary at Guardian Unlimited
- SHEARSMAN BOOKS:– Recommendations features a comprehensive listing of books by Sobin
- "Sparkling signatures" Edmund Hardy reviews The Places As Preludes on-line at "Jacket Magazine" (number 31 : October 2006)
- I had an “aha moment” reading René Char’s "The Brittle Age and Returning Upland" Ron Silliman's essay on Sobin's translations of two books of poetry by Sobin's friend and mentor Rene Char
- Gustaf Sobin Archive located at the Yale University's Beinecke Library
- Multimedia, audio & video files
- Words Through: A Tribute to Gustaf Sobin video recordings from the panel celebrating the life and work of Gustaf Sobin on March 6, 2010 at the University of Arizona Poetry Center