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This review is taken from PN Review 220, Volume 41 Number 2, November - December 2014.

A Believable Foothold peter gizzi, In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems 1987–2011 (Wesleyan) £21

Besides being a collection of the most compelling American poems of the last thirty years, Peter Gizzi’s Selected Poems is the story of how a poet schooled in the radical deconstructive tradition of Language poetry ended up reimagining the lyric for the twenty-first century.

Proceeding backwards, Threshold Songs from 2011 is one of the most striking sets of poems the century has produced so far. The fragile self-examination of this book, motivated by the deaths of his parents and his brother, the poet Michael Gizzi, is such that a new voice entirely seems to have entered the language. The work’s stress on contingency and flux, combined with a commitment to the lyric so refused by the traditions of radical American poetry Gizzi emerges from, creates a living form of soul-making – forms of enquiry, hesitance and failure that articulate for grounding in the contemporary’s ‘changing light’:

now
that you’re gone
and I’m gone what
did we learn
what did we take
from that oh
always dilating
now that you’re here
and also gone
I am just learning
that threshold
and changing light
a leafy-shaped blue
drifting above
an upstate New York
Mohican light
a tungsten light
boxcar lights
an oaken table-rapping
archival light
burnt over, shaking
                       (‘Analemma’)

There is not simply change in Gizzi’s world, but a metamorphic way of seeing; we are ‘always dilating’. Gizzi seeks ...


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