‘Poetry is essentially a threshold experience,’ Peter Gizzi said in an interview upon publication of his fifth collection, Threshold Songs (2011). And indeed, Gizzi’s poetic voice often stands on the threshold. His verses move across borders in a fluid manner: inner world/outer world, life/death. Listening to language is one of the first principles in Gizzi’s writing: ‘One of the jobs for me as a poet is to listen to the exterior world in relation to some otherwise illegible interiority. I want to connect these two and give the resulting relationship a sound.’ He is the author of numerous poetry collections, including Now It’s Dark (Wesleyan, 2020) and Archeophonics (Wesleyan, 2016), which was a Finalist for the National Book Award. He was awarded the Lavan Younger Poet Award from the Academy of American Poets as well as several fellowships.
This explains the apparently improvisational course of his poems. Lines are connected by ever-shifting concordances: rhythmic, syntactical (for example, in a poem derived from variations on a single line of Simone Weil’s), sound. The result is an undulating lilt. On the one hand, it speaks the language of the moment: often, alas, a disastrous political language of ‘whoop ass and vision’, as it is referred to in one poem. Many poems in his third and fourth collections, Some Values of Landscape and Weather (2003) and The Outernationale (2007), take stock of George W. Bush’s catastrophic presidency. But Gizzi also records the transient beauty of daily life, the experience of light, colour and air, and the voices of the dead. This fluid boundary between life and death is particularly striking in Gizzi’s later collections. In a poem like ‘The Growing Edge’ he seems to hear the voices of dead loved ones reflected in the weather, in the air itself.
The emphasis on listening betrays the influence of the poet Jack Spicer (1925-1965) for whom poetry was about receiving radio dictation exercises from Mars, and whose collected works Gizzi edited. The voices of other poets in the poetic canon are highly important to Gizzi (‘I like to read the dead,’ reads a line in the poem ‘A telescope protects its view’) and this is also true of the living poetry community: alongside his work as a poet, he is also a magazine editor, amongst others for the journal of language arts he set up, o•blék (1987-1993) and for the weekly magazine The Nation (2007-2011).