Gibson Fay-LeBlanc is proud be known as Portland’s puck-moving poet laureate. He plays men’s league hockey, his kids both skate, and he’s one of those hockey dads who spends his winters toiling with frozen fingers on the backyard rink.

He’s also Portland’s newest poet laureate, and his next book of poetry will be filled with poems about his love of hockey and sports and how they enrich a life that’s based on family and community.

Fay-LeBlanc, 41, was installed as poet laureate in a ceremony at SPACE Gallery that included the handing off of a giant wooden pen, carved with the names of the city’s poet laureates. He is the fifth, following Martin Steingesser, Steve Luttrell, Bruce Spang and Marcia Brown.

The job entails spreading the “good news of poetry” across Portland and surrounding communities. As an educator, for Fay-LeBlanc that means working with students in elementary school through college, as well as adults. As a hockey player, it means infiltrating the locker room.

He got the idea for his hockey poems after a goalie, “sixties and fit,” banned all book talk in the locker room. In “Hockey Poem,” Fay-LeBlanc writes about what is allowed in the locker room:

“sex lives


(with detail), deer or moose hunting, barrooms,

and hockey – kids, adult, professional, pond,

even women’s.”

Someday, he’ll deke that goalie, “catlike at six am on a Thursday,” and get even on the ice. He’ll enlighten the goalie in other ways, too, delivering lines that will “make his heart leap and flutter in the way he thought could never happen outside this brutal, beautiful game.”

The poem will be included in Fay-LeBlanc’s next book of poetry, which he will call “Deke.” The word is a hockey term, describing a deceptive offensive maneuver to fake out the opponent, usually a goalie.

Fay-LeBlanc has lived in Portland a decade. He’s from Illinois and grew up a Cubs fan. His wife, a doctor, is from Maine. They moved here to raise their sons, now 7 and 9, after she finished her residency in New York City.


Fay-LeBlanc had no idea he had landed in such a rich writing community. He came to Maine assuming he would give up his literary life out of necessity. Instead, he has thrived in a community steeped in the tradition of Longfellow and flourishing in a contemporary culture that includes best-selling and Pulitzer Prize-winning authors, journalists, commentators and poets.

“I have lived in New York City; Burlington, Vermont; Worcester, Massachusetts; Oakland and Chicago,” he said over lunch at Big Sky Bread Co. on Deering Avenue, a short walk from his home. “Portland’s concentration of writers is off the charts. I felt lucky to have landed in the middle of that. I had no sense of that when I moved here.”

All his friends are writers, or hockey players. His neighbors are Mike Paterniti and Sara Corbett, co-founders of The Telling Room. Fay-LeBlanc taught at The Telling Room and became its executive director. He now serves on its advisory board and is on the board of the Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance.

His first book of poetry, “Death of a Ventriloquist,” was published in 2012.

In addition to the poems for “Deke,” he’s also writing a novel. It’s called “The River Between Us,” and it’s about med school friends in New York City and the difference between the lives they live and the lives they portray.

As poet laureate, he sees his job as continuing the efforts of his predecessors to put poetry in the hands of the people in everyday ways. His role model is Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair, who has trumpeted poetry across Maine during his five-year term, which is coming to an end.


Fay-LeBlanc will serve a three-year term.

He’ll use whatever means necessary, including locker-room talk. His poem, “Men’s League,” sums up why he plays:

Last night’s score sheet: snapped stick,

missing helmet screw, a pinkie

I’ll never straighten. On the bench

this morning, I lectured two kids


on the best way to get back at

the boy who slashes and trips: take

the puck and score a goal, I said,

like it’s the easiest thing. Last night

I did the easiest thing: hit back,

cursed the ref, lowered my head


and rammed ribs, shoulders. The pinkie

aches, a mark to remember how

badly we want to mean something,

how badly we want it to count.”

Fay-LeBlanc’s poems are about the character of hockey, the emotions of the game and the importance of humility. He understands that sports are a metaphor for life, that the lessons coaches teach in midgets and mites are lessons those same coaches need to be reminded of when they strap on their pads and lace up their skates.

Hockey does that to you. It can break you down, and make you forget about the sporting high road.


And it pumps you up. “Every day I play hockey is a good day,” he said.

That dislocated pinkie may not represent his finest hour as a human being. But, damn, it sure felt good.

Fellow writer and Portland hockey player Lewis Robinson said the locker-room guys give Fay-LeBlanc grief for writing poems about hockey, but they respect him – if not for his writing then for his game. If you earn respect on the ice, you can get away with things in the locker room.

Fay-LeBlanc has earned the respect of his teammates and opponents, Robinson said.

“I remember in the locker room after one game, he scored a couple of goals and had one goal called off, and he was questioning the ref or arguing with one of the players, and they were just saying, ‘Oh, why don’t you go write a poem about it instead of chirping about it.'” Robinson said. “People definitely like to make fun of the fact that’s he a poet.”

Fay-LeBlanc is a good, tough player, Robinson said. He backs up his talk with hard-nosed play.

“One of the things I admire about him as a hockey player, he takes it seriously. He gets pretty fired up. He’s engaged. I’ve been hit by four slap shots in the foot, and they’ve all been Gibson’s shots. I don’t know if I should take it personally, but he has no trouble hauling off with a slap shot with guys in front of the net.”

Fay-LeBlanc would tell Robinson that he earned his bruise. Make it count.

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