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.”

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Finally: Jorie Graham

After years of reading whatever I can find online by and about Jorie Graham and making do with what few poems by her I have in this or that anthology, I finally bought a copy of her now-15-year-old collection The Errancy yesterday. I’m surprised it’s taken me this far, given how I echo her twin interests in philosophy and film studies.

Although I’m not sure how The Errancy ranks with her other books, I was won over by reviews that mention Lacan and Deleuze, that listen to Graham’s “heady, improvisational music” and “accretionary syntax,” and that cite bits from her “mutated love poems.” It also helped that I’m preoccupied with errors, secrets, and lies–all those different ways one swerves away from capital-T Truth–and the very title of The Errancy certainly points to that.

(I should also mention that Emily Galvin, Graham’s daughter with James Galvin, has published her own collection with a strong basis in mathematics, also an interest of mine, poetically speaking. I think I should read James Galvin’s work sometime, just to complete this little family circle.)

I’ve posted a link to this interview before, pointing out Graham’s remarks about Michael Palmer, but this time, I think I’d like to paste the relevant excerpt here, as a reminder to myself about the work I’m (supposed to be) doing (all emphases mine):

keeping the song alive is keeping alive a world in which song is possible. You have to keep hope alive. Any kind of truth you might arrive at that hasn’t contended with hope is going to be very partial. [pause] Michael Palmer is very interesting in that regard. He has extraordinary music. I think he’s learned better than anyone the Stevens trick of making the poem disintegrate on the surface but stay totally alive musically. To me he’s very important in that regard. The way he uses repetition. The particular way he will bring certain images back without that turning into structure. Pure desire kept alive in the act of writing by the way fragments recur.

I also like how Graham talking about silence (“Making the silence come awake in the poem is important to my process. The silence – or anything else that resists the impulse to imagine, own, transform.”) leads her to a really brilliant disquisition on her use of the poetic line, one where I’m hard-put to emphasize any idea as more important than another:

…lines of breath-length, say, lines that contain up to five stresses, sometimes feel to me like measures that make that silence feel safe. A silence that will stay at bay for as long as it takes to get the thing said. Writing in lines that are longer than that, because they are really unsayable or ungraspable in one breath unit for the most part (and since our desire is to grasp them in one breath unit) causes us to read the line very quickly. And the minute you have that kind of a rush in the line (emphasized perhaps by the absence of commas and other interpretive elements) what you have is a very different relationship with the silence: one that makes it aggressive – or at least oceanic – something that won’t stay at bay. You have fear in the rush that can perhaps cause you to hear the fearful in what is rushed against.

What you feel – this is Romantic of course – is the pressure of a silence that might not wait until the end of the line to override you. And so you have to rush those words into it. In this new book, I’m writing mostly in traditional lines again, with less counterpoint from such prose-length units. But the calm assurance of the standard English line has always interested and troubled me. In Erosion, the line-length tended to be much smaller than the norm. The voice in that book was, in fact, so aware of the overriding presence of the white space that it just tried to mash words into that space. With great pressure. To create the sensation of that gravitational weight. Sternness. Solemnity. As if to build cell by cell a fabric that could take the weight of eternity into it – like human tissue.

And here’s a bit from a poem that isn’t in The Errancy but in a later collection called Never. It moved me this morning when I read it, out of the context of the entire poem:

from the 2002 collection Never

from "The Taken-Down God" by Jorie Graham

Five for Today

  1. Remember that old opposition set up between word and image? The Visual Thesaurus mentioned here makes it easy to say goodbye to it. Even better is the VisuWords graphic dictionary, which has the benefit of being free.
  2. Not only does the name of The Unemployed Philosopher’s Guild sound Python-esque, so do the products it sells. These include Post Structural-Its sticky notes, Freudian slippers, and Nietzsche’s Will to Power Bars (“When your Wille zur Macht is a-flagging or you’re just a little tired of transvaluating all values, try these!”).
  3. Singapore-born poet Jee Leong Koh, now living in New York, writes a sequence of ghazals entitled “A Lover’s Recourse,” which, as its title suggests, responds to Roland Barthes. Superlative work, and my own recent interest in the ghazal (thanks to my reading of “Newlywed Ghazal” in a powerful poetry collection by another Asian poet) suddenly seems burdened by the anxiety of influence(s). Still, talk about eclecticism being “the degree zero of contemporary general culture”! (Ah, salut once more, M. Barthes.)
  4. William H. Sherman’s “How to Make Anything Signify Anything” is a fantastic article about Francis Bacon’s development of the “biliteral cipher,” generating a code that ends up culminating in a photograph of people who, by turning their heads in certain ways, themselves become an encoded message. Holy McLuhan, Batman! The sender is the medium is the message!
  5. Ange Mlinko writes about Robert Duncan writing about H.D. in “Duncan’s Divagations.” I like Mlinko, I like Duncan, I like HD, so that’s a triple whammy. One of the many gems: “The poet, in order to find the real, must look under the surface of the world to its hidden core of perdurance. The figure for one’s pantheon of masters is not, properly, a ‘canon,’ as it is in English departments. It is, per the ancient tarot pack, an arcana.” Beautiful.

 

Postscript: Mlinko’s “The Everyday Oblique”, one of my favorite articles, also dealt with codes and is yet another example of her concise yet substantial brand of criticism. Her other articles for The Nation often make for compelling reading, too, exhibiting the same qualities.

To whit, she lauds John Ashbery for having discovered that “the ideal poetry for the Information Age is a poetry of no information” and reads country music in Graham Foust‘s poems, based on how country “typically mines the quotidian and refines it into an elegy you’ve been hearing on the radio all your life.” Again, beautiful.