Friday, February 27, 2009

Last night's Peter Gizzi reading was pretty spectacular. And what a sweetheart. Generous, humble, and scary-smart. It was truly an honor to welcome him. Thank you, Gail.

Peter Gizzi Introduction

To come across reviews or criticism of any one of Peter Gizzi’s collections—be it his first, Periplum, published by Avec Books in 1992, or the three books that followed: Artificial Heart (1998), Some Values of Landscape and Weather (2003), and his latest The Outernationale (2007)—is inevitably (and quite regularly) to come across swells of admiration and praise. Variously, his work elicits words like passionate, baffling, numinous, plaintive, unnerving, quixotic, generative, haunting.

It’s an appreciation that carries over to his diligence as an editor, most recently of The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer and My Vocabulary Did This To Me, Spicer’s collected poetry, two volumes in a four-volume project that have been widely hailed as some of the most important curatorial work in the past 50 years.

For these endeavors and others, Gizzi has been recognized with a number of honors, including the Lavan Younger Poet Award from the Academy of American Poets, as well as fellowships from The Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation.

But let me return briefly to the poetry by way of an excerpt from an interview, one in which Gizzi is reflecting on his time in residency in Mareseille, France:

“The past is always visibly haunting the present: you see a building that begins in the first century, the second floor is from the 13th century, and the third floor is from the 20th century – some incredible piece of architectural genius. Everywhere you look, the Modernist notion of parataxis or collage surrounds you . . . . there are always structures being worked on. Wherever you go, there's no vista where there's not some crane or some team of people rebuilding something. People are actually repairing the view.”

The surprise and delight Gizzi registers here, and so elegantly,—that “people are actually repairing the view”—gets right at the heart of Gizzi’s project, at a creative destruction or on-building, that is also one of the more ambitious impulses in all of contemporary American poetry: On the one hand, to acknowledge how poetry is “haunted by textuality” while, on the other, to insist that poetry remain vulnerable to emotion, and determined to “know” something, anything, however fleetingly.

This, I think, begins to explain why Gizzi is already lauded as one of the best poets of his generation. He’s a reconciler, a poet intent on repairing the view. Like Wallace Stevens, a poet to whom he is often compared, Gizzi, is a poet of the imagination, one for our moment, if not Romantic, then perhaps Remantic—deft at delivering pleasures both sensual and intellectual, even (or maybe especially) when composing out of doubts:

I am far and I am an animal and I am just another I-am poem, a we-see poem, a they-love poem.
The green. All the different windows.
There is so much stone here. And grass. So beautiful each translucent electric blade.
And the noise. Cheers folding into traffic. These things.
Things that have already been said many times:
leaf, zipper, sparrow, lintel, scarf, window shade.
(from "It was Raining in Delft")

What a great pleasure it is for me to welcome to Tucson Peter Gizzi.

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