Sunday, June 16, 2024

Peter Gizzi, A User’s Guide to the Invisible World: Selected Interviews, ed. Zoe Tuck


Though I’ve given you some of my personal backdrop of the periods in which I composed some of my work, it’s not that I narrate my biography in any of these poems. I don’t really write about my life. I write out of my life and where I am at a given moment of thinking and feeling. I mean to say, you don’t need to know my story to get the work, i.e., to fully engage with it. I’d like to call it a feeling intellect. I feel it’s more useful, and more honest, to interrogate rather than explain away an ungovernable, complex emotional state. I favor sensation over autobiography. It’s like I’m an ethnographer of my nervous system. (YALE LITERARY MAGAZINE—2020 “NATIVE IN HIS OWN TONGUE: AN INTERVIEW WITH POET PETER GIZZI” JESSE GODINE)

I’m appreciating the insight into American poet and editor Peter Gizzi’s writing and thinking through A User’s Guide to the Invisible World: Selected Interviews (Boise ID: Free Poetry Press, 2021), edited with an introduction by Zoe Tuck. Gizzi is the author of numerous books and chapbooks, including Fierce Elegy (Middletown CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2023) [see my review of such here], Now It’s Dark (Wesleyan, 2020) [see my review of such here], Sky Burial: New and Selected Poems (Carcanet, UK 2020), Archeophonics (Wesleyan, 2016), In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems 1987-2011 (Wesleyan, 2014), Threshold Songs (Wesleyan, 2011), The Outernationale (Wesleyan, 2007) [see my review of such here], Some Values of Landscape and Weather (Wesleyan, 2003), Artificial Heart (Burning Deck, 1998), and Periplum (Avec Books, 1992), as well as co-editor (with Kevin Killian) of my vocabulary did this to me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan University Press, 2008) [see my review of such here]. Moving through his website, it is frustrating to be reminded how much of his work I’m missing (I’ve reviewed everything of his I’ve seen, if that tells you anything), but interesting to realize that Wesleyan University Press published In the Air: Essays on the Poetry of Peter Gizzi (2018), a further title I’d be interested to get my hands on, especially after going through these interviews.

I’m intrigued with what American poet and editor Martin Corless-Smith is doing with this venture, the handful of titles he’s published to date through the Free Poetry’s “Poetry and Poetics Series” [see my review of Cole Swensen’s And And And (2022) from the same series here], apparently accepting manuscripts and pitches on a case-by-case basis. A User’s Guide to the Invisible World: Selected Interviews, produced as volume two in this ongoing series, compiles nine previously published interviews with Peter Gizzi from 2003 to 2021, from The Paris Review, Poetry Foundation, jubilat and Rain Taxi, conducted by writers, critics and poets such as Ben Lerner, Aaron Kunin, Levi Rubeck, Matthew Holman and Anthony Caleshu. As editor Tuck writes as part of their introduction: “Why interviews? Biography can too easily become hagiography (Gizzi would be the first to insist that he’s a person, not a saint), and memoir carries with it the impulse to smooth life’s unruliness into a single consistent narrative. If readings are poetry’s official ritual, interviews are the cigarette outside: intimate and unrehearsed. What’s more, the interview is a relational form. And the various interlocutors in this collection—a precocious undergrad, notable contemporaries, life-long friends, people from places where Gizzi has traveled—call forth distinct facets of his life and work.” There is something really interesting about hearing the author’s thoughts in their own words, as well as, as Tuck suggests, a directed thinking through not only conversation, but multiple conversations. The portrait that emerges of Gizzi is one that shouldn’t surprise anyone familiar with his work, providing a deeply thoughtful and engaged reader and thinker, one who has read widely, is open to new influences and ideas, and holds firm to his influences, as well as providing curious echoes between interviews (given the range of dates is within a particular boundary of sixteen years, that certainly makes sense). As Gizzi responds as part of an interview conducted by Ben Lerner:

As Ted Berrigan said, “I write the old-fashioned way, one word after another” or, to quote Pound, “put on a timely vigor.” As long as there is soldiery, there will be poets: “I sing of arms and the man,” Virgil begins his tale of the west; sadly, the relation between war and song is a venerable tradition. I own it. There is no easy “app” to the muses. I suspected that your original question about the “perils of singing” was connected to the many discussions, debates, and attacks on the lyric as a substantial form of thinking (I almost wrote “thinking”). Why should I apologize for, or give up on, one of the most flexible and dynamic forms of poetry? So I can download my work? I mean, what do they call the guy who graduates last in his class at a fancy med school? Doctor. It’s scary. But it’s the same for poetic practice. And as is the case with all disciplines, it’s always a question of ambition, of how well it’s done, right? Like every good poet before me, I accept my responsibility to my vocation.


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