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Posts Tagged ‘poems’

The Afterlife of the Voice: An Interview with Peter Gizzi

March 16, 2015 | by

 Gizzi

Last year saw the publication of In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems 1987–2011, a significant retrospective of the work of poet Peter Gizzi. Gizzi—who also has three poems in the latest issue of The Paris Reviewhimself selected and arranged In Defense, which not only samples nearly twenty-five years of his poems but finds a new order and a new context for them—both for Gizzi and for his readers. The titles of his earlier books provided points of location and navigation. His first collection, Periplum (1992), takes its title from an Ezra Pound line about a journey, and the notion of the poem as a journey is something Gizzi has carried throughout his career. The Outernationale (2007), his fifth collection, gives a sense of the landscape these journeys cross—at once internal and external, subjective and universal. In Defense of Nothing, which will be published in paperback in April, was recently named a finalist for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize.

I spoke with Gizzi by phone about assembling the volume. At the beginning of our conversation, I told him that we had met once years before, at an event, and that after our conversation he had given me the copy of Artificial Heart from which he had been reading. He couldn’t remember our interaction, but for him, that individual connection—between the poet and the poem, the poem and the reader, and the reader and the poet—is the heart of the poetic experience.

What does it mean to assemble a selected-poems volume, and how does a project like this begin?

It began as a conversation with my editor of fifteen or more years, and now my dear friend, Suzanna Tamminen. She has a good sense of my work and she knew there had been a lot of changes in my life, some difficult, and that I was taking stock, as it were. So she proposed that I do a selected poems.

Did you learn more about what that means over the course of the project?

I’ve discovered there are several versions of Peter Gizzi. Over the course of this book there is the Peter Gizzi who lived in New York City, the Peter Gizzi who lived in the Berkshires, in Providence, in California, in Amherst, and so on. I learned that twenty-five years of life accumulate, as does one’s work. And yet I found that there is an uncanny consistency to the variety and reality of address in my poetry in whatever form I happen to be working—small lyric, series, long form, prose poem. It was illuminating to me simply because my inner life can be a turbulent experience, and I live one poem at a time and one book at a time. Read More »

The Space Between Everything

March 12, 2015 | by

The elliptical life of Etheridge Knight.

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Etheridge Knight

This piece is part of a lecture for the Bagley Wright Lecture Series, a nonprofit that provides poets with the opportunity to explore in-depth their own thinking on the subject of poetics. Terrance Hayes will deliver his lecture, Three Acts of Love: As You Leave Me, Upon Your Leaving, and Feeling Fucked Up,’ ” tomorrow at five P.M. at NYU.

Taped to the wall of my cell are 47 pictures: 47 black faces: my father, mother, grandmothers (1 dead), grandfathers (both dead), brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins (1st and 2nd), nieces, and nephews. They stare across the space at me sprawling on my bunk. I know their dark eyes, they know mine. I know their style, they know mine. I am all of them, they are all of me; they are farmers, I am a thief, I am me, they are thee. —Etheridge Knight, “The Idea of Ancestry

Who was Etheridge Knight, and why should he be of interest to me, or more important, to you? Knight himself thought it was enough simply to say, on the back of his 1968 debut collection, Poems from Prison, “I died in Korea from a shrapnel wound, and narcotics resurrected me. I died in 1960 from a prison sentence and poetry brought me back to life.” If you’ve read anything about him, you’ve likely encountered these lines. Just behind their resurrectional vibe are several unwritten chapters in the biography of a talented, ex-con, con man, blues-blooded rambling romantic.

Knight died in 1991. He was born in 1931 in Corinth, Mississippi, a town founded only about around eighty years before his birth. Thus the “ancestors” of his most anthologized poem, “The Idea of Ancestry,” only go back not to Africa but to his grandparents. The Cozarts on his mother’s side of the family counted themselves among the town’s founders; they were landowners, cotton farmers, entrepreneurs, musicians, and storytellers. His father, on the other hand, was a laborer from Ramer, Tennessee, a smaller-than-small town twenty minutes from Corinth. According to Eunice, Knight’s younger sister, their mother, Belzora Cozart, didn’t know a thing about being poor until she married Etheridge Bushie Knight, and then moved with their children nearly two hundred miles north to Paducah, Kentucky, when he took a job working on the Kentucky Dam. Knight was just a boy at the time, but as he writes in “The Idea of Ancestry,” “the brown hills and red gullies of Mississippi” were already calling him back with “their electric messages, galvanizing [his] genes.” Read More »

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Home Is Where the TV Is, and Other News

March 11, 2015 | by

tvmall

It’s okay—you belong!

  • The artist Tim Youd is retyping Lucky Jim, word by painstaking word, in public at the University of Leicester, on an Adler Universal typewriter—the same model Kingsley Amis used. “I’ve read everything before I retype it, so the suspense is gone. The appreciation happens on a deeper level. I get to examine the structure, the style in the course of the most active form of reading … At its heart, the performance is a devotional exercise. It is an extreme, perhaps slightly absurd dedication to the author’s words.”
  • Post-Internet poetry takes for granted that the Web, as a medium, can inspire and inform a poem—it doesn’t make a show, that is, of turning the poet into a kind of DJ, “weaving together samples of preexisting language into something unique. Of course, this is nothing new. The cento—snagging lines from other poems to make your own—has been around for nearly two millennia. But what’s new is [the] use of Google as an oracle, the results from which are strained through [one’s] own subjectivity, leading to poems that are at once organic and mechanical, personal and, in a sense, objective.”
  • “More than 300 million people live here, and they had descended over the course of a very few generations from a huge number of disparate cultures, with different histories, ways of behavior, worldviews, and experiential backgrounds. All of them, sooner or later, had been required to relinquish their old culture and enter the new one. That must be why the most striking thing about the United States was its sameness … And that must be why every American movie was made after the same template and why, in this sense, every movie expressed the same thing. And that must be why all these TVs were hanging on the walls, unwatched; they created an immediate sense of belonging, a feeling of home.” Knausgaard’s travels in America continue.
  • Kristin Dombek on Kim Gordon and Sonic Youth: “Sonic Youth turned the war of sound into a war on the reproducibility of music for consumption, and the failure to create the perfect rock product into music itself … Since guys liked Sonic Youth, learning to like them had seemed like a way to borrow a little male bonding, like wearing flannel, skipping class to drop acid, or fumbling my way through a hacky sack circle.”
  • Don’t pretend you don’t care about the sociology of flatulence. “Heterosexual men were the most likely to think it was funny and the most likely to engage in ‘intentional flatulence’ ... Heterosexual women felt like they were violating gender norms if their farts were stinky: ‘The worse it stinks,’ said one, ‘the nastier they think I am.’ ”

And Frank O’Hara As Himself

February 24, 2015 | by

Warning: going down the Frank O'Hara reading rabbit hole can swallow your day. It’s not that the poet’s reading of Lunch Poems is such a revelation, by which I mean different from what you might have imagined in your head. Rather, he reads them exactly the way you imagine them, or even read them aloud yourself: conversational, matter-of-fact, and incidentally just touched with Boston. He’s who you’d cast to play him. 

It’s gratifying when things look or sound or act as we picture them; it’s nice not to have the limits of our imagination challenged. Or maybe that’s what imagination is. Anyway, it doesn’t happen often, and if we are surprised nowadays, there’s nothing to blame but laziness. The last time I remember being pleasantly surprised by the synergy of a voice and a face was when I first saw a picture of Brian Lehrer.

My Lost Poet

February 23, 2015 | by

Anger and tenderness in Philip Levine.

Photo: Frances Levine

In the spring of 2012, Philip Levine delivered a lecture at the Library of Congress called “My Lost Poets,” marking the end of his tenure as the eighteenth U.S. poet laureate. In the talk, which was later published in Five Points, Georgia State University’s literary journal, Levine takes us to Wayne University’s Miles Poetry Room in 1948, where, once a month, he and other aspiring poets gathered to talk shop and critique one another’s work. The group comprised four World War II vets and a number of Wayne University students, including a young man who would eventually be drafted to the Korean War, a narcissistic Hart Crane wannabe, a rural Southern Baptist woman from Kentucky, and a young black man obsessed with Walt Whitman. In the wake of the war, Levine explained, the group found urgency and vitality in poetry, regardless of their respective talents. This poetic camaraderie was short-lived, though. The Hart Crane fanboy died in a car wreck at an early age; the Southern Baptist disappeared into the jungles of Latin America; the Whitman worshiper saw his idealism dissolve in the face of fifties-era politics and Jim Crow laws. Still, it was these people, along with the war poets he discovered during that time, who helped shape Levine’s own poetic voice.

That voice, when he finally found it, decried the injustices of our society, of working-class life in particular, lending Levine’s experience a “value and dignity it did not begin to possess on its own.” Unlike his great hero, Walt Whitman, Levine doesn’t seem to stand over us, exalting and exalted. Instead, he’s always among the multitude bearing witness to the historical moment. He looks out every so often to address his reader with a plural or a singular you that invites us to share his vision, expanding our own. His poems are full of unrealized dreams, with auxiliary verbs—would, could, should—signaling inevitable disappointments or a foreboding sense of what’s to come. This dissonance between one’s idealistic fantasies and reality conjure a tremendous anger in his work, evident especially in his earlier poems about factory life in Detroit. Read More »

My Mother Taught Me

February 18, 2015 | by

A poet’s misadventures in erotica.

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GILBERT

I’ve written prose. I’ve written several novels that no one has seen. Well, one was published.

INTERVIEWER

My Mother Taught Me, an erotic novel, wasn’t it? 

GILBERT

It’s about sexuality. You have to understand, people were writing sex books but no one was writing them well. I thought pornography should be as much of a genre as cowboy stories. But pornography is boring. Childish. Unhealthy. I thought, Why not have a novel of sexuality that’s not paralyzed by the need for orgasm? So I wrote a good pornographic novel to show it could be done. An enjoyment rather than a momentary excitement. There were so many pornographic novels written; why weren’t they effective? A momentary spasm. Some people will have an orgasm if you say a dirty word or say, What he did to her body was . . . But what if you approach it as a real novel? The idea of entertainment intrigued me at the time—so I wrote one.

The Art of Poetry No. 91, 2005

Jack Gilbert, who would’ve been ninety today, actually published two erotic novels: My Mother Taught Me and Forever Ecstasy, both coauthored with Jean Maclean and published under the opaque nom de porn Tor Kung. Olympia Press, a short-lived purveyor of smut and other wonders, foisted both titles upon the unsuspecting public, and in time they became the most requested books in the publisher’s oeuvre.

The premise of My Mother Taught Me, which appeared in 1967, is absurd, even farcical—and in its outlandishness, it seems designed to effect what Gilbert called “an enjoyment rather than a momentary excitement.” But what kind of enjoyment? Our hero is Lars, a naive Swedish schoolboy who was raised in an all-male orphanage. The place was so strict, so straitlaced, that Lars in his nonage had never so much as laid eyes on a woman—not even a photograph of a woman. Read More »