Gizzi & Gould, ca. 1983


Have been reading some of Michael Gizzi's old Burning Deck books (ones I can find).

From that day on Medway St. (spring of 1971), at the young assistant prof's apt. (wish I could remember his name), with Michael & Honig, Cloutier & me & other students... I felt a faint sort of kinship/rivalry with Michael Gizzi.

& after that, for 40 years, we crossed paths occasionally...but always with this brotherly sense (hello, old pal)... up to last spring (2010) at Tazza. & later this summer, walking by on Prospect St... "almost didn't recognize you," he said/I said...

What happened, Michael? I don't know...

Sense, from your Burning Deck books, of someone approaching Ezra Pound... trying to deal with the dualities, the contradictions... remaking the jocular vernacular Americanisms, in your OWN way, displacing Pound's... for so many conflicted painful reasons... pain is the name of the game.

for Michael Gizzi

Verbatim, an ancient little review of mine (replete even then with the obligatory Mandelstam references), which was published in a local neighborhood paper (the East Side Monthly) on Dec. 6, 1979.


Avis, or (The Replete Birdman), by Michael Gizzi
Burning Deck, 1979

Rhode Island is the home of Burning Deck Press, a small press maintained by Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, who design and print each book themselves. Burning Deck publishes some of the most handsome poetry books found in the world today. Their emphasis on fine craftsmanship has had an influence on writers in the area, and one might go so far as to say that something like a "Providence style" has grown up centered around Burning Deck. Several local poets share certain means of approach (though it would be wrong to try to define them too strictly.) Their work is part of the effort to express an American idiom as opposed to an English, Continental, or classical style - that effort which was given its famous ambiguous send-off by Whitman. But these poets seem to owe more to Emily Dickinson, in terms of precision, neatness, observation, and the joy of expressing the single, almost random word, as opposed to the "theme." They also owe something to William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, and other contemporary inheritors. Single words or very short lines are spread over the page - poetry's visual aspect is very important - giving a staccato effect similar to jazz improvisation or bird-talk, which is often very successful in capturing colloquial American speech. Historic European poetry emphasizes the intense weight of the line of poetry, whereas this American style delights in a scattering effect spreading over the page, and the timbre of the sound is more important than the melody (again, as in jazz or birdsong). Finally, in discussing this general Providence style, one cannot neglect to mention a curious, quirky humor, expressing some kind of Providence state of mind as well as the jokes embedded in the language itself.

This general approach seems to be a perfect vehicle for Michael Gizzi in his most recent book, Avis. Avis is Latin for "bird" (as in aviation, aviary, etc.), and the book among other things celebrates an evolutionary and poetic emergence of a "bird-man." Mr. Gizzi, who in his occupation as a tree surgeon spends a lot of time out on a limb, speaks from first-hand experience (poets also, as Gizzi proves, are among the feather'd tribe).

Have you ever found yourself, of a morning, standing in a field bordering a stand of trees, listening to the birds? These flying creatures have an incredible way of creating and melodifying open space. Birds are true architects, building with musical charts the entire forest - their nests huddled in the branches being but the sexual-familial nexus. Their work goes on in the cities as well - being, as the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam said, "the first sprouts of a virgin forest that will cover the site of modern cities." Poets are also builders, as again Mandelstam says, poets are "those who, inspired by the spirit of building, do not like cowards renounce their own gravity, but joyously accept it in order to arouse and exploit the powers architecturally sleeping within." The first thing a poet builds is a pair of wings, thus becoming the wings, rather than the antennae of the race - these wings being more structurally necessary than anything developed at Houston space center.

I would like to quote extensively from Avis, for the Gizzi-bird coves a wide expanse of the wilderness of birdman nature. Here is just a short bit to give the reader a taste :

The number of points of light
Is indeed
Very large if not
I am aloft w/my vision, aloft everything
Seems to tree
Or perch
The winged and leafy of one lung
Are alike
And upon every branch sits a consort
Of singers so that every
Tree shows
Like a 'musicke roome'

Any extensive reading of Avis lends weight to the ancient theory that words themselves were originally handed down to mankind one-by-one by a Big Divine Bird, something between a condor and the common English sparrow. The language and style has a kind of baroque formality, but everyday speech is baroque. And it is a new kind of formality, an American metric. There is something in this style, an echo of the dancing precision of the Elizabethans and metaphysical poets of the Renaissance. This combination of down-to-earth American humanity (descended from W.C. Williams), and a winged Renaissance dancing quality, forges a link between poetry and the best popular folk and medieval music, the heart of the common harmony. In conclusion, I hope my review has succeeded in expressing my opinion that Michael Gizzi's Avis is no ordinary "cheep thrills."

*unfortunately I'm not able to replicate the spacing of the original lines.... the alternate lines, up to "Or perch", should each be indented a couple tabs.

Michael Gizzi

Sad today, late September, while the sun is shining. Can't really believe Michael Gizzi has died. ??

A brotherly, friendly, funny writer, a startling poet I kept crossing paths with, over the centuries. In the spring of 1971 we took what was the first "writing class" for both of us. Traded a lot of poems. He was a poet who worked as a TREE SURGEON, which impressed me (the college freshman)...

10 yrs later, I'm delivering supplies to local food coop on Camp St., suddenly Michael Gizzi, of all people, jumps out of a car to say hello, girlfriend beside him...

7-8 yrs after that, we're sitting in on another class together, this one the special Ezra Pound centennial seminar, at Brown...

in the 90s, the 00s, I run into him at readings in Boston & Providence... abbraccio, handshakes... have a drink with him & Robert Creeley's widow, down at Tazza reading last spring... our mutual friend Jim Chapin & I do some blues beforehand... they seem to like the harmonica-playing...

recently (a few weeks ago) bumped into him again, out walking on Prospect St. (with her)... 40 yrs goes by...

seems too soon to leave now, Michael...


Epic might be personal

Another interesting and insightful diary-entry from John Latta : this one on an essay on New American Poetry by Canadian writer Brian Fawcett.

Fawcett's critique of Charles Olson's epic "imperialism" & megalomania, while not exactly original, sounds (from Latta's excerpts anyway) well-put, and hard to deny. Yet it seems to me you lose something if you reduce Pound's & Olson's epic ambitions & projects to mere egotism & ideological grandiosity. Epic ambition is in part a search for epic wholeness : that vast multiplicity-in-unity - ancient epic's synthesis of history, poetry, & cosmic vision - bringing all experience (or at least the symbolic image of same) into the microcosm of a shape, a work of art. What from one angle looks like the shadow of megalomania, narcissism & totalitarian thinking - all the basically ugly & atrocious elements of these poets' vainglory - can, from another angle, be recognized as rooted in the basic shaping impulse of art : what I have tried to describe elsewhere as the ("Acmeist") humanizing, or personalizing, of reality. I see this as a primordial artistic task, going back to the archaic shamans : the function of providing a sense of order in the cosmos through dramatization - giving meaning to experience, and order to chaos, through "playing it out."

Olson & Pound both took this high-priestly role in some dark & demagogic directions. Totalism, totalitarianism are inherent dangers of any search for wholeness through art. & we should be careful not to romanticize the irrational, self-aggrandizing impulses of same. Yet this humanizing/dramatizing/synthesizing/visionary/epic dimension is fundamental to poetry. (Classicist Charles P. Segal has explored the ambiguous duality of the poetic "pharmakon" - delusive drug or visionary guide? - in a number of studies.)

& with this in mind, I guess Pound's self-effacing disciple in the "long poem", Zukofsky, can be seen as their alter(ed) ego : so many maximus-pounds of anti-gravity. Foreshadowing, in "A", the objectification of "language" to come...


local origins of elegy

"This peculiar dance is given to a stranger, or strangers, whom [the Iowa] are decided to welcome in their village; and out of respect to the person or persons to whom they are expressing this welcome, the musicians and all the spectators rise upon their feet while it is being danced.

"The song is at first a lament for some friend, or friends, who are dead or gone away, and ends in a gay and lively and cheerful step, whilst they are announcing that the friend to whom they are addressing it is received into the place which has been left."

- George Catlin (quoted on p. 1 of An Archaeology of the Soul, by Robert L. Hall)

Beauty will save the world

There's a dialogue between Ange Mlinko & author Iain McGilchrist in the October 2010 issue of Poetry. McGilchrist, a sort of cross-disciplinary brain-scientist/literary scholar, published The Master and his Emissary, a new meditation on right/left brain differences (shorthand : right brain = holism/synthesis/emotion; left brain = definition/analysis/abstraction). Mlinko & McGilchrist explore some of the implications for poetry of McGilchrist's work.

This dialogue appears around the same time as Elif Batuman's lengthy review of Mark McGurl's book The Program Era, on the impact of creative writing programs on British & American fiction-writing (which I haven't read). Both Batuman and McGurl address the academic divide between MFA programs and the other academic disciplines (humanities & sciences) - the split, generally, between "knowledge" and "creativity."

All of which makes me consider the possible connection between the two. Is the MFA/humanities divide a symptom of a deeper distinction between two dimensions or functions of the mind?

I wonder if this old conflict between knowledge & creativity, or what used to be called science & art, has something to do with an absence in our civilization of a philosophical ground in aesthetics - of a viable ontology of Beauty. The ancient Greeks (Plato, Aristotle) had a notion of beauty as musical harmony, rooted in natural proportions, which they were able to synthesize with ethics and metaphysics - natural beauty had its analogue in moral rectitude. The Middle Ages, in turn, synthesized the knowledge of nature with the metaphysics of divine creation, so that all intellectual investigation & knowledge was believed to have its origin in God, and its end in wonder & mystical contemplation. But disenchanted naturalism of the Modern era was rooted in a scepticism about the metaphysical grounds of knowledge. Scientific truth was opposed to the superficial ("accidental") illusions of beauty. Thus the ground for aesthetics no longer existed.

Postmodernism & deconstruction, stemming from Nietzsche & Heidegger, attempted to dismantle the hegemony of scientific positivism by means of a sort of language-oriented but anti-rational vitalism, centered in a notion of poetry & art as displacing scientific reason. Hence postmodern literary Theory pushed a sort of intellectual wedge between American MFA programs, on the one hand, with their "naive" devotion to self-expressive creativity, and traditional academic disciplines, with their "naive" roots in "logocentric" rationalism. Yet postmodern Theory's anti-rational propositions were destined to fall by the weight of their own self-contradictions - and thus the contemporary scene seems to have returned to a strange state of intellectual dispossession, with echoes of 19th-century naturalism & scientific positivism emerging in the contemporary devotion to brain science and reductive biological determinisms.

"Beauty will save the world," famously reported Dostoevsky. Perhaps a new metaphysics, able to discern purpose & meaning in the mysterious phenomena of art and beauty, will tend somehow toward the fulfillment of that prophecy. & I suppose at the center of the chessboard will have to be a new challenge to the deeply-rooted modern-positivist doctrine - that beauty is a surface illusion, floating over a structure of what are simply forces : of non-human, abstract, cosmic physics, and of amoral, remorseless biological nature. Keats's taciturn (but stubborn) urn long ago set all the pieces into play :

"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."

- Grace Ravlin (Venice, 1908)


for Edwin H. on his 91st

Happy Birthday, Edwin Honig

Edwin Honig turns 91

Looking through piles of books for something else, I came up an old copy of Nedge # 4, which includes a poem by Edwin Honig, old friend & teacher (who turns 91 today). I was moved by the way this poem seems to foreshadow Edwin's future (& present) suffering from Alzheimer's. Though Edwin seems to have lost his memory almost entirely, he's retained his old mischievous, playful manner, his sense of humor & surprise...

Here's the poem from Nedge :

Lying on the Half-Truth

No one at the station
meets no one on the train.
Train starts up again,
takes away the station.

the other-won't-

into the then-

sliding by with
all its own

chafing thought
squelched by

Did it ever happen?
Was I in it?
How was it to be that
where-and-when now?


- I can hear Edwin's bemused, tuneful, comical, wry (what's the word?) human voice in my head, reciting this.... & somewhere I have an old recording of one of his readings... I should try to get it digitized - maybe I will.