Thanks to Soon Productions for inviting Peter and Liz to Ithaca.
Currently on the Faculty of the Department of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Peter Gizzi has published a number of books, including the recent Some Values of Landscape and Weather, from Wesleyan University Press, Artificial Heart, Periplum and other poems, and others. He's also the editor of Jack Spicer's lectures, and is currently working with Kevin Killian on the collected works of Jack Spicer, a four-volume project.
Peter is often described as one of the most important poets of his generation. People have written about Peter's qualities as a poet, his "reinvention of the lyric," "his visionary quest and raw emotion," his management of a myriad of details available only in the hyper-extended age of the post-industrial, post-punk and post-L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. I'd like to describe something else, something related to his work as an editor, organizer, an activist for poetry.
In the foreword to the final double issue of oblek, the one collecting writing from the now infamous gathering of "emerging writers" known as Writing From the New Coast held in 1993 in Buffalo, Peter describes the generational significance of Earth photos taken from space.
"We are the generation of artists that grew up with a photograph of the earth tacked to our walls. When that first image of the earth was sent back in 1959 our conception of this place was changed materially. No longer was it to be a world so defined by our ancestors; in that swift shutter and instant transmission it became worlds, peoples, and languages. All boundaries or clear definitions of identity are eroded, active and blurred. Simone Weil said "You could not be born at a better period than the present, when we have lost everything." We live in this space of multiplicity where the ability to construct a single world with shared aspirations, sensitivities and imagination is not only improbable but impossible. Yet it is poetry's function to aspire to the impossible, because poetry works through a human agency the generosity of a reader and a writer. Poetry demands that a risk be taken, and from this act of intelligence courage claims precedence over poverty of spirit." (oblek, 1993)
At the time I found that statement remarkable. Its epic scope shocked and excited me. I was energized, indeed activated as a poet to be an editor, a publisher, a poetic maker in the broadest sense. Here was a call for a poetics of risk, significant for a generation emerging from the Reagan 80s he had cheerful optimism about how such groupings, in our case a gaggle of graduate students, could muster sufficient hubris to declare themselves the government. The risk of not doing so is found in the warning supplied by George Oppen's "Of Being Numerous," which Peter cites in the following section of the Foreword to that last issue of oblek:
shall one know a generation, a new generation?
In Peter's case, the body politic that emerges under his care as "program director" or "professor" or "editor" is generous enough to make the opening in the field porous and democratic, and the objects supplied have been renewed with a life force that's keepin' it real, vital, relevant. This is partly why you'll see a trail of literary magazines and small poetry presses run by his students from Buffalo, Santa Cruz, and now U-Mass.
Looking back at his meditation on the photo of the Earth written nearly a generation ago and from the vantage informed by all that has happened in the interim I see the importance of the proximate in Peter's work. This proximity is a layered adjacency as much a remix of physical human spaces and encampments (New York School, San Francisco Renaissance, Language Poetry, etc.) as it is a temporal, a hieratic association with poetic ancestors. Peter sings to the lived-in world from the vantage of all-time, drawing on the riches of a variety of poetic traditions, and with as much filial piety as youthful irreverence.
It is a fractured brilliance, not broken but from rescued shards assembled. This sophisticated blending of informants and influences is delivered with a seeming spontaneity that should make the workshop regulars blush.
Though it's difficult to choose something "characteristic" to sample here, and thankfully so, take this from the poem "At Earth" found in Artificial Heart:
earth came into being without a name; without a link,
Please join me in welcoming Peter Gizzi to Ithaca.
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