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This review is taken from PN Review 254, Volume 46 Number 6, July - August 2020.

Cover of Sky Burial
Ben HickmanSigns of Wear
Sky Burial, Peter Gizzi (Carcanet) £12.99
Sky Burial is Peter Gizzi’s second selected poems, coming after In Defense of Nothing from 2014. The earlier book was a follow-on from the much-admired Threshold Songs (2011), a collection that cemented Gizzi’s reputation as the foremost practitioner of experimental lyric in the US. The new book sees the addition of work from 2016’s Archeophonics and eleven new poems, and a contracted space for Gizzi’s earliest work.

Threshold Songs is a book of sadness, unspeakable at the same time as words rush into the book’s absent centre. These poems struggle through time in the face of real loss that constantly takes one back to a gone past. They both stay with muteness and mutability and stage the contingency and impermanence of staying. The book announced Gizzi, after decades of orthodoxy on the revolutionary power of ‘the materiality of language’ from poets writing sometimes from a similar tradition, as the new century’s poet of fragility, for whom poetic materiality was more than abstraction. These were faint, breakable poems, and Gizzi showed that poems could hold themselves like this without collapsing.

Archeophonics was more expansive, more open to wonderment, as seen here in the full text of ‘Field Recordings’, one of Gizzi’s longest poems. Poetry is more boldly a commitment in this book – still sympathetically frangible, but also more obviously possessed of power. Amid Gizzi’s usual, carefully evoked faltering, are flashes of directness and charisma, sometimes gnostic, sometimes even directly political. ‘The words,’ as Gizzi put it in the book, ‘saying fire’.

The ...

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