Gizzi's poetry was largely unknown to me before I read this collection; but
after reading this fine collection, I feel I'd like to explore his work more.
Like much of what could be called the contemporary post-avant scene, this is
an abstract poetry but with its feet placed in the world. His poems are at
once simple and complex, leading the reader to ponder the nature of
experience rather than being about a particular experience.
The simplicity at times becomes almost song-like, as in 'Gray Sail':
If I were a
probably roll over
If I were a
If I were a
If I were a book
I would sing
which has echoes, of course, of 'If I had a hammer...' but which is stranger
and more mysterious than its source. There is a metaphysic going on here which full of echoes, of ghosts
and questions at the edge of understanding. Sometimes, the poems have an
epigrammatic quality in which each line leads the mind into the a new
the same just faster.
amount of fracture, office worker, and eclipse.
into amperes about me.
collar starched and pulled taut over the skin.
text has become real touching me, touching down.
Are we not
born of iniquity, property, loot, grandeur, flinty grammar?
Are we not bread-like, soft tissue,
heat-seeking, and fragile?
In a room of
heady effort tomorrow is indeed a fabulous sail billowing.
room billowing may be feathered and lines with French verse cobbled from the
vender's broute cries.
Not a jeering
mass at mardi gras but telepathy.
Penny For The Old Guy')
These poems don't give up their meanings at first glance, they hint at
meaning, they suggest, and they sound like proverbs or parables without
specific interpretation. There is a lot of space for the reader in these
poems; like Rae Armantrout and Michael Palmer, Peter Gizzi is opening out the
poem for the reader to ponder their own experience.
Notley's Songs and Stories of the Ghouls is, at first sight, a very
different affair. This is a book length sequence which invokes the ghosts of
ancient history, of war, of violence against women, of political and economic
exploitation. It rewrites the myths of Dido and Medea to comment on the way
that the constant wars of civilisation not only destroy lives but whole
cultures and ways of thinking. Throughout, she confronts and plays with the
concept of the epic, with its glorification of 'great deeds' and violence.
This makes for a not very easy, or quick, read, and I can't say I've got my
head around the whole thing yet. The book is divided into three parts, mixing
verse and prose, narrative and more abstract passages, is set partly in the
world of the living and in the world of Dead, where the ghouls live.
What it shares with the Peter Gizzi book, however, is its sense of
'hauntedness'; there is throughout this book an apprehension that the ghosts
of the dead are all around us, just at the edge of memory. Even though we
forget, there are always scars.
Here's an extract from the first part, which mixes lyric and prose:
There was power in that room. I
it, because my eyes were
judgment on this almost face
the mouth so.
scars on my right side won't fail.
come back wearing them
of a conscience or a guide
order to cause
trembling white vertical lines
black sky above sea. they
what it might be; the
emotional tone of the old
universe was vicious.
no care for me
I'll confess to struggling with this poem/sequence; but I think it's
worth struggling with. Sometimes, poems can just wash over you; one can enjoy
the play of wit and the language play, one can nod at a particularly
brilliant image. But this book seems worth engaging with and thinking about
and around. Its use of ancient myths and its seriousness of purpose may
easily have made it seem elitist but throughout the book, the writing is
often spiritual and deep and full of resonance in a way I very rarely find in
In fact, both of these beautifully produced books contain the kind of writing
that leads to pondering, to thinking further, rather than to just
experiencing and then moving on. That seems to me to be a rare commodity in
the poetry world, and I welcome it.
© Steven Waling