And Never Mind About The Bewilderment

Too bad for you, beautiful singer
unadorned by laurel
child of thunder and scapegoat alike
from “A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me”, Peter Gizzi

IMG_2641I was lent a few books written by the poet Peter Gizzi recently. One of which is was meant for German publication. It is a dual-language publication entitled, Totsein ist gut in Amerika. It had a section at the end entirely in German, which I therefore couldn’t understand– was it just an afterword? Biographical? It looked more interpretative, but as I don’t really know I amused myself wondering how the bits in English related to the  long consonant-heavy words written in relation to them. A digression, I will admit, but that is a quality I love about a physical book, the details that place it in a specific time and place, or in this case, misplace. First of all, reading and holding a book of poetry is a different experience from reading a single poem (particularly online), but one becomes more aware of the thing as an object when one is not the particular audience for whom the book was produced. I kind of delighted in experiencing the book from that slight oblique angle.

A chromosome has 26 letters, a gene just 4. One is a nation.
The other a poem.

– from “Eclogues”

Gizzi, a friend of the late Robert Seydel, (whose artwork adorns this edition’s cover and to whom the book is dedicated) shares Seydel’s sense and sensibility of arrangement. Writing is necessarily a process of  composition, but the arrangement is a subtle art: how one image, word, or sentence flows patiently to the waiting consideration sets the timbre. Gizzi’s poems are of an observer’s poignant acknowledgment of  the details that surround, strike a fancy, or sink into the soul.

23. In space the letterforms “I love” oscillate in waves.
– from “Apocrypha”

Threshold Songs published by Wesleyan Press has some of the same poems and is a lovely beautiful book: simply, but prettily, bound. It has a slightly more somber timber, and many of the poems have a tighter rhythm. “Modern Adventures at Sea” is the last piece– perfectly placed at the lingering end.  It is deeply affirming of our humanity: our questions, our barely controlled lives which are completely out of any real control. That we manage stay afloat most of the time is the miracle, adventure and beauty or our voyage.

When lost at sea
I found a voice,
alive and cresting,
crashing, falling
and rising. To drift,
digress, to dream
of the voices. Its
grain. To feel
its vibrations. Pitch.
Its plural noises.
To be upheld
in it, to love.

The last book was Ode: Salute to the New York School, it is a cento, (“a late Roman verse form made up of lines from other sources” (43)) in this case New York poets from the 50s to the 70s. In this breezy form something wonderful of the zeitgeist of that period shines through. In the back Gizzi delightfully explains that he “wanted to express the latent desire for lists and order, and to create a texture to accommodate the eros inherent in research” (43).  I love that. It’s true, of course! and so perfectly expressed I laughed aloud when I read it…accommodate the eros inherent in research, indeed!  What odd creatures we are!

To know is an extreme condition
like doubt, and will not rest.

–from “Nocturne”

Ultimately what I found so deeply appealing of these works is that Gizzi is not trying to know, not trying even to understand. His poetry, by a sort of reserved observation, therefore creates a simplicity of impact, and the reader feels it with poetic intimacy. The doleful beauty of it all– this life, its song, its journey, “just a little green untitled,” we are more than all that we see–there is goodness here.

Lines Depicting Simple Happiness

The shine on her buckle took precedence in sun
Her shine, I should say, could take me anywhere
It feels right to be up this close in tight wind
It feels right to notice all the shiny things about you
About you there is nothing I wouldn’t want to know
With you nothing is simple yet nothing is simpler
About you many good things come into relation
I think of proofs and grammar, vowel sounds, like
A is for knee socks, E for panties
I is for buttondown, O the blouse you wear
U is for hair clip, and Y your tight skirt
The music picks up again, I am the man I hope to be
The bright air hangs freely near your newly cut hair
It is so easy now to see gravity at work in your face
Easy to understand time, that dark process
To accept it as a beautiful process, your face


* Title from “Periplum” pg. 182 Totsein Ist Gut In Amerika
** “just a little green untitled” from “Fin Amor” Totsein ist Gut in Amerika pg.148


10 responses to “And Never Mind About The Bewilderment

  1. This hits home — and certainly would never have been known to me without your unique literary treasure-hunting. Thanks!

  2. Some great lines here, yours and theirs…
    All letter forms oscillate in wave, not just “I love” and they have different meanings at different angles, times. It’s all poetry–if you are looking for that–content with form and form as content. Glyphs are art; they are both means and end be they by pixels, press or pen.
    Drift, digress, [now free] to dream, to simply feel the vibrations or ponder whether pitch—here, with both voice and sea references–is meant as a relative frequency or something like roll or yaw. Plural noises for sure, or ADHD?
    “Eros inherent in research” chasing footnotes in the stacks. I see a rococo forest spirit “Hyperlink” becoming a citation to avoid the capture by the old Greeks’ primordial goddess of creation “Thesis”
    Is doleful beauty redundant?

    • Your wonderful comments reminded me of a newly published book out of Granary Books by Ed Sanders called A Book of Glyphs. It is a marvelous merging of, as you write, “content with form and form as content…both means and ends”

      And I love your final question, “is doleful beauty redundant?” My immediate reaction was to delightedly laugh out loud, but upon pondering in earnest I’d say…well, maybe…beauty does strike a low reverberating chord, somewhere very close to melancholic…

  3. Because of the gentle and profound insight of what you wrote Dear Ms.Ryan, I was able to express myself – through the words/eyes you gave me – to a friend about her partner, another poet. . “One needs to approach their writing like visiting an entirely new city. There are the first impressions, the energy and sweep of the place you see and feel when first entering, when first experiencing the monuments and historic locales. Then, if you stay there, after a few days, the whole city evolves, becomes far more detailed, alleyways, texture, rhythms. It becomes more human and you’re not looking at the buildings and monuments but the people, the very human people and the stories they tell, how the lines on their faces shift and the light in their eyes change.”
    That would not have been possible without you opening your heart and leading the way. Thank you.

  4. Wonderful post and poet, who I will certainly read more of.

  5. “…glyphs” seems about that from what I see online; I’d like to get my hands on–to borrow, not buy–the $2500 version, though. Doleful beauty is close to melancholic, but more like in a minor key, a Dorian mode with a twist, think “Eleanor Rigby” or “Stairway to Heaven” or “So What” by Miles (according to Wikipedia) and I agree, trying not to remember the words.

    • I have the trade edition, but the “glyph notes” are online so I don’t feel deprived…I am also fortunate enough to have easy access to a library which owns the jaw-droppingly expensive version. The artist book holds a strange place in the world…they seem, to my inexperienced eye, to be relegated to the rarified world of rare book rooms and the like…it is something I think often of, and contemplate as to why that is, and how it could be different…

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