Peter Gizzi

Peter Gizzi‘s name mentioned in a meeting I had with my thesis adviser (hi, sir!): did it really happen, or did I just imagine it?

Can’t verify with a brain still fried from grading final requirements, but if my adviser did mention Gizzi, asking me if I knew the poet, I’m pretty sure I would have said, “Yes, I’ve read some of Gizzi’s poems here and there, but I mostly know him for having co-edited the collected Jack Spicer.”

Kevin Killian, the other editor of My Vocabulary Did This To Me, seems, to me, a “louder” and more outrageous figure. He’s long had my attention with two collections of poetry, one of which is centered on Kylie Minogue and the other on Dario Argento.

Still, Peter Gizzi seems to have been humming in the background all this time.  Humming like a current of electricity, humming like an undercurrent of song. To whit:

“Poetry At The Threshold: Peter Gizzi Interviewed By Ben Lerner”:

Singing is a perilous business. What does it mean to be next to oneself, seeing and/or singing one’s self in time as a rhetorical figure, disembodied and refigured as an embodied line of verse? To be spoken not just in the act of writing, but to be spoken and present and remain intimately embodied in some posthumous time as well—to accept this haunted occupation of poetry?

Publisher’s copy: “The poems in Threshold Songs tune us to the microtonal music of speaking and being spoken.” [emphasis mine]

Aside from some great comments about punk (” I can hear Dickinson’s spiky, haunted, rebellious, and eerie tunes as punk” and “What’s “punk” in all this is the DIY reality of the homemade, the raw voice, with its asymmetries, its reaching, and its limits,” to cite just two) , the BOMBLOG interview with Gizzi also has him say

I think of poetry always as a territory and imagine sound as a sculptural element, in the sense of being held in an abstract or aural environment, as when one is listening to a piece of music. So it’s the same with the music of the poem, whether it be a kind of inspired talk or a richly coded lyrical run. It’s a sound, after all, and so you can return to your place in the world, or better yet, discover your place in the world, within the music of the poem, and that only happens in the act of listening. It’s dynamic. It clears a path for me to go deeper into my own interiority and to light every corridor and chamber and discover what’s there.

From the older jubilat interview with Gizzi:

  • “I like the word bewilderment because it has both be and wild in it, and I can imagine also wilderness inside it as well.”
  • “Again, I’m not only interested in a history of the lyric but in a more ontologically complex reality of lyric history.”

And still further back to 1998, Burning Deck’s publication of Gizzi’s Artificial Heart is accompanied by the following remarks, which seem to me a good description of what I’m trying to do in my own work:

Formally the collection is a sampling of lyric history from the troubadours to post- industrial punk: it sustains the haunting quality of a song heard from a distance, overlayed with playground noise, lovers’ oaths and cries of loss.

From the Rain Taxi review of Artificial Heart:

One telltale aspect of Gizzi’s heart is his love of music. This shines, surely, in the content of the poems: “New Picnic Time” is named for a Pere Ubu album, and “Fear of Music” after one by Talking Heads; both poems “sample” the lyrics of these band’s songwriters in seamless and engaging ways, turning their punk postmodernism to his more archly crafted ends. But more importantly, Gizzi’s impeccable sense of line and of stanza create a fine and delicate music throughout.

Gizzi’s gorgeous musicality marries his abstractly conjured imagery in a wedding of non-linear bliss, once again demonstrating that the heart of poetry, artificial though it may be, veers away from sense and always toward beauty.

Marjorie Perloff’s review of Artificial Heart has her talking about “a tantalizing new lyric mode” in Gizzi’s post-Language poetics (is she really talking about the Third Way?!) and also has her invoking Hart Crane (who tends to critically “belong” to Harold Bloom) and saying:

…the notion throughout Artificial Heart that the lyric poet is once again writing trobar clus–the allusive, oblique, hermetic lyric of the troubadours–a poetry of secrecy.

Also: Perloff’s introduction to Young American Poets, also from 1998, has her talking about Gizzi and several other poets, including Cole Swensen, in the context of “an exciting moment for lyric poetry.”

Advertisements

David Shapiro

I brought a few poetry collections to work today. Three of them (Spicer, Stevens, Palmer) are omnibus volumes, “meta-collections” gathering collections that were previously published as separate books. The Lauterbach is a selection culled across several volumes, none of which are represented in its entirety, with a possible exception being the 1997-2000 poems in the section entitled The Call, which were gathered here in If In Time for the first time, as far as I know.

Foreground: four books from the personal canon. Background: lots of other significant stuff.

While I already have my hands/head/heart full with these writers (hands…literally!), there’s another book I meant to bring today but forgot to grab before I left. It’s a single collection, the only one I have by David Shapiro, and it’s ironic to think and write about this absent book when its title is After A Lost Original.

I first found out about Shapiro when a Google search for either “Ezra Pound” or “John Berryman” led me to this piece about difficult poetry collections, with The Sonnets of Ted Berrigan (onetwothreefour!) now joining The Cantos and The Dream Songs. The comments were even more helpful by pointing to poets I was already familiarizing myself with (Hart Crane, Louis Zukofsky, Basil Bunting) and Shapiro, who I only found out about through a comment that “nominated” A Burning Interior.  Another Google search, for Shapiro and his “difficult” collection this time, led me to a fantastic set of articles and interviews on Jacket.

I’m fond of quoting lines from After A Lost Original, such as the last two lines/sentences that end, um, “Sentences,” which I’ve always found heart-tugging in its evocation of a link between author and reader, one based on an experience not founded on understanding and knowledge:

The reader loses his way richly, but it is not certain that the reader loses.
Nevertheless, you found your way about, though I do not know you. (31)

I also like Shapiro’s “Prayer For My Son,” a response to (parody of, rewrite of) Yeats that offers advice like:

Be concealed
Like a conceptual tree
And when you need to be explicit, be (18)

and (cited here)

Forget what you have earned
Learn to know what you have not yet learned
Until you confuse the good
With the beautiful
Don’t seek out the wise, be wise
Never abandon the beloved
Just close your eyes
To the world and open your eyes. (ibid.)

In fact, and this is why I’m a bit irritated about not having my copy of After A Lost Original at hand, I like the lines Michael Leddy cites in his review, such as this one from “You Are The You” (the 8th poem in the Broken Objects, Discarded Landscape section):

To look up into your face
Is like looking into the devastated stars (33)

and, from the third stanza of “Dido To Aeneas” (4th in the same sequence):

I am a city and a statue and a wall and a revenge
It is a recent cut like an accident in a forest. (29)

and, from “The Mistranslation,” the third poem in the sequence entitled Voice:

The mountain hears bright shadows shine.
A mountain brightens; shadows shine.
I hear the mountains; bright shadows shine. (57)

I’m moved by how seemingly ordinary language in lines becme dramatized by a line break that turns a verb into an imperative (again, from “You Are The You”)

To whom does the you in your poem
Refer (33)

I wish I could say something more coherent about Shapiro’s collection, but I’ll just leave it to William Keckler who blogs about Shapiro’s After A Lost Original here and also includes “You Are The You,” the source of the last lines I’ve just quoted. And over here, Keckler has Shapiro’s “A Night Of Criticism,” another one I often plunder for lines to cite.

Here’s a PDF of Thomas Fink’s critical essay on Shapiro’s New And Selected Poems, which I’d go ahead and order if I wasn’t so fixated on buying each of Shapiro’s other collections, so as to get as much of his poems in my hands/head/heart.

I’ve linked to Joanna Fuhrman‘s interview with Shapiro before, but here it is again. I just enjoy reading it now and again. From its evocative title (“pluralist music” sounds like something that calls to me as an ideal to aspire for in my own writing) to so many gems and insights, it’s well worth reading again and again. If I had a hard copy of it, I’d be highlighting most of the text.

Finally, here are some aphorisms from Shapiro that dance around how he “makes it new — with stickers.” I’m not as skilled in that kind of papercraft, but here’s something to look at and think about:

Heavy meta mayhem!

My Rambling and Personal Context for Jack Spicer’s “A Lecture On Practical Aesthetics”

From Ann Lauterbach’s “Introduction” to The Night Sky:

…I have a desire for a practical aesthetics, wherein connections to the making or appreciation of forms have direct application to daily life, and daily life in turn inflects and conditions how to relate to the forms, artistic and otherwise, of the world. This shifting reciprocity is central to these writings. (4, italics hers)

I’ve read those words several times before, and based on what else I’ve been reading deeply these days, Lauterbach’s words resonate with, say, those of Michael Palmer from “Octavio Paz: Circulations Of The Song”:

The first stirrings of vanguardism…can be found in the theoretical matrices of German and English romantic theory, with its revolution of forms, its conflating of genres, its collapsing of life into art and art into life.”  (108-108, italics mine)

I also think of Wallace Stevens and the constant not-as-simple-as-it-seems dynamic of reality and imagination animating much of his work, and how it seems on one level to fit within the art-life scheme but, and I think this is important, not on others.

And then I think of Jack Spicer.

During the Vancouver lectures Spicer delivered shortly before he died, the poet was asked how Stevens fits into the notion of the serial poem Spicer discussed in detail in the second lecture. You can hear the question and answer on the audio clip embedded on this page, but here’s the quick answer: Spicer doesn’t really think “Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction” or “The Man With The Blue Guitar” conform to his ideal for the serial poem.

Spicer sounds a little unsure though, at least enough to somewhat concede a little and cite Transport to Summer (incidentally, the collection where “Notes Toward A Supreme Fiction” is found as the final poem) as coming close to what Stevens was trying to do in Harmonium. He’s unsure enough to say “I don’t know” before discussing instead what one may call the academic context of reception of Stevens (more on this later) and admitting that the term “serial poem” isn’t really very strong.

The first interesting point here is the emphasis on the book as the serial poem itself, which seems to me a play of scale (book = serial poem) similar to that found in a Symbolist like, say, Stephane Mallarme, whose “Crisis Of Verse” (PDF) ends with the following paragraph equating word with poem:

It’s an idea compelling enough to have been echoed in Hart Crane‘s “General Aims And Theories”:

(I’ve left out the part of “General Aims And Theories” that led to this sentence, but it’s worth reading for the explicit link Crane makes between the Romantic and the Symbolist when he mentions Blake and discusses matters in terms of innocence and experience.

The latter word, by the way, bears a rich set of etymological associations, one taken up by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, from which that footnote was taken, and by Lauterbach, who not only writes within what she calls a “poetics of experience” but also links that word with the experimental.)

Nowadays, Spicer’s book as serial poem idea no longer seems so radical if, instead of grounding it in the dictation from a Martian radio–a science fiction update of traditional occult sources of the poetic as may be found in, say, Williams Yeats and Blake–we instead think of it in  pragmatic terms. “The book as project,” for example, or what Natasha Sajé calls dynamic design and the structure of books. Also, the requirements of an MA thesis in creative writing.

So despite Spicer having it out with the Romantic tradition, when he offers the figure of the poet not as

a beautiful machine which manufactured the current for itself, did everything for itself—almost a perpetual motion machine of emotion until the poet’s heart broke or it was burned on the beach like Shelley’s—instead there was something from the Outside coming in

there seems to be a more complicated relationship going on between Spicer and Romanticism. (As an aside: I’m amused and shocked that Spicer would use as an example Shelley, who for Michael Palmer

represents a radical alterity, an alternative to the habitual discourses of power and mystification by which we are daily surrounded and with which we are bombarded. He represents a poetry of critique and renewal, rather than of passive re-presentation, a poetry which risks speaking to the central human and social occasions of its time, yet speaks from a decentered and largely invisible place. It exploits the margins to speak as it will, out of difference, rather than as it is always importuned and rewarded, out of sameness. (204)

But there’s something else going on here, and it has to do with the academic discourse framing Stevens in 1965. Right after Spicer tries to half-heartedly discuss the aesthetics of Stevens’s work by means of the serial-poem question, he says the following oftquoted remark, expressing with more conviction why he “distrusts” Stevens:

The awful thing I’ve noticed about Stevens that I’ve noticed is that everybody in English departments who hate poetry, which is just about everybody, loves Stevens. I liked Stevens a great deal more before I saw that. You get somebody you know very well just hates poetry, like some people hate baseball or French movies like I do. You know there’s just a real weird hatred. Well, they always like Stevens, all of these people. And the more they hate poetry as it is in the process, the more they like Stevens. So although Stevens moves me, I’ve gotten more and more distrustful of him.

As strange as it may be to connect Spicer and Louise Gluck, I can’t help but remember how she also feels a similar distance towards Stevens, assuming of course that distrust can be rightly considered distance and a lack of intimacy and nearness. I think it does, somewhat, and that’s where an interesting dynamic of agon takes place.

I found Aliki Barnstone’s essay on Hart Crane moving precisely because she struggles against Crane and herself: “My intent when I began this piece was to defend Crane, but as I reread, I found myself recoiling. I’d never written about a writer I wasn’t in love with, and now I’d fallen out of love with Hart, viscerally.”

Similarly, I like it when a struggle with Stevens takes place in poems by, say, John Berryman, Terrance Hayes, Cole Swensen, or Frank Bidart. (I guess, for the sake of consistency, I should also say that I like my bitter struggle with what seems to be a Bloomian preoccupation, despite some misgivings I may have about some of his critical judgments.)

And so, I go back to beginning, though I’ve digressed so much that I’ll have to talk about this in another entry.

That bit from Lauterbach at the very top? The “practical aesthetics” she italicized and which she links to her “poetics of experience”? That rang a bell with me when I read it recently, because just before I did, I read an early Jack Spicer poem where he struggles with Stevens from an aesthetic, rather than discursive, perspective. It’s an apostrophe to “Mr. Stevens” and the repetition of that address at several points in the poem sound to me like a snotty punk kid doing an “Officer Krupke” spiel.

The title of Spicer’s poem? “A Lecture On Practical Aesthetics.” Emphasis frigging mine. But I’ll write about this next time. This has gone on too long.

Three Or Four Pieces

I say “pieces,” because I’m not sure whether the Susan Steinberg piece should be “properly” called a poem. It certainly reads like one, to me at least, even though her works are referred to as stories. Anyway, my attention has been caught by these for the past few days already.

(And the Taggart shows no signs of relinquishing its hold.)

  1. “The Humanist” by Matthew Gasda (who also wrote a poem called “To Hart Crane”)
  2. “Spectacle” by Susan Steinberg
  3. “Refrain For Robert Quine” by John Taggart (yes, this Robert Quine)

Timothy Donnelly

I once posted an excerpt from a great interview with poet Timothy Donnelly, but I’ve yet to write about how captivated I am by his poems and poetics. His recent collection The Cloud Corporation has gotten rave reviews, and he’s been compared to Wallace Stevens and Hart Crane (and Jay-Z).

What I’d like to do here for now is link to the text of “The Cloud Corporation” and his reading of it, as well as a review that discusses the difficulty and duplicity of his work, especially with regard to selfhood (and which also compares him to Jay-Z). All of those are themes I’m seeking to explore in my thesis. Well, not Jay-Z, but you know.

Nick Laird

Nick Laird was born the same year I was, and he’s had two novels and two collections of poetry published. In a move to vary my habit of adding books willy-nilly to my Amazon Wish List, I went ahead and ordered the newer collection.

He first caught my eye when I saw that one of his poems anthologized in The New North, an anthology of contemporary Northern Irish poetry edited by Chris Agee*, was entitled “The Use of Spies,” which interested me for several reasons:

  1. My mental Echelon sounds an alert whenever “spies” and other espionage-related words pop up in what I read, especially in poetry.
  2. I recognized the reference he was making with the title, mostly because of a childhood spent with this, rather than a deeper cultural connection with my roots.
  3. Laird apparently wrote a series of poems connected not only by titles taken from Sun Tzu but also being about married life. I want to write more love poetry, but one which dealt with marriage from rather odd perspectives (so far, I’ve written one that started with Anne Bradstreet and became an extended conceit on love as a giant robot of the mecha variety).

You can click here to listen to Laird read “The Use of Spies” and other poems, including “Wolves” and “Time for a Smoke” by Louis MacNeice (both of which I like a great deal). You may even “transcribe” his reading of that poem–which is beautiful–the way I did, because I can’t wait to get my copy of his book.

Two of Laird’s poems from the same book are also available here. Both “Holiday of a Lifetime” and “Estimates” are love poems, too, wonderful ones that capture an ache without coming across maudlin. Same with “Light Pollution.”

I’m also reading Laird’s columns for the Guardian. Even when he writes about a topic I don’t really think about, say, science and poetry, I’m tickled pink with his references to Robert Frost’s “Desert Places” and to “Hart Crane in ‘Voyages’ mode.” Three that I’d especially like to highlight are:

  1. “Like a prayer” (metaphor as agent of transformation)
  2. “Difficult ease” (which touches on my fixation with poetic difficulty)
  3. “The Slow Language Movement” (which touches on my admiration of John Olson’s “extreme reading” approach)

I love these moments of discovery.

* The death of Agee’s daughter led him to write a collection called Next to Nothing. Its  title poem references Heidegger, who I’ve been reading lately while I write a short story for the fiction workshop I don’t really talk about here: “…the human // Barnacled to the great right whale of Heidegger’s Being.”

Also of personal interest, the poem is followed by one called “Attic Grace,” which alludes to what got me interested in Ezra Pound in the first place, which brings me back to Salt Publishing, as I first came across their books when I wanted to know more about Tony Lopez‘s Covers, a collection of reworkings and “found poetry” that includes “Sequel Lines”:

We catch glimpses and echoes of Ezra Pound’s impossible fascist epic The Cantos (of which the author himself famously wrote ‘I cannot make it cohere’) in the Raworth-style self-replicating minimalist stanzas of ‘Sequel Lines’, an anti-epic freighted with unscalable detail of modernist catch-phrases, contemporary theory and non-sequiturs. ‘The unified subject / was out of a job’.

John Berryman

In the process of getting to know John Berryman, I’ve read:

  1. this interview from The Paris Review, conducted a year before he died and published in an issue that contains an unrelated pleasant surprise: the print publication of one of my favorite Velvet Underground songs (listen and try fail to read along)
  2. David Wojahn’s highly-engaging memoir-cum-critical-essay “‘In All Them Time Henry Could Not Make Good’: Reintroducing John Berryman”
  3. the notes on Berryman and samples of his work on this entry from one of the best reasons I still have for entering the LiveJournal URL on my browser
  4. what seems to be the complete Dream Songs, from 77 Dream Songs to the beautifully-titled His Toy, His Dream, His Rest

I want to print out all of these, so I can highlight the parts that resonate so strongly with me. “Resonate” is a good word to use: I don’t claim to understand everything Berryman does, but just like with Hart Crane (another poet I’m also reading about these days), there’s something in the work and the life that sings to me.

One more thing (for now):

I’ve only just realized that Michael Robbins’s “Alien Vs. Predator” (one of my favorite contemporary poems) makes what seems a reference to Berryman’s characterization of Rilke as a jerk in “Dream Song 3: A Stimulant for an Old Beast.” I like Rilke’s work a lot, and he was instrumental in getting me interested in poetry, but I must confess I find it hilarious when poets call him a jerk.