Gizzi, Peter

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GIZZI, Peter

Nationality: American. Born: Massachusetts, 1959. Career: Since 1995 assistant professor of literature, University of California, Santa Cruz. Awards: Gertrude Stein Award in Innovative North American Poetry, 1993–94, 1994–95; Lavan Younger Poets award, 1994.



Periplum. Penngrove, California, Avec Books, 1992.

Music for Films. Providence, Rhode Island, Paradigm Press, 1992.

Hours of the Book. Gran Canaria, Zasterle Press, 1994.

Champ. Great Barrington, Massachusetts, The Figures, 1994.

New Picnic Time. Buffalo, New York, Meow Press, 1995.

Artificial Heart. Providence, Rhode Island, Burning Deck, 1998.

Add This to the House. Cambridge, England, Equipage, 1999.


The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer. Hanover, New Hampshire, University Press of New England, 1998.


Critical Study: By Alan Gilbert, in Denver Quarterly (Denver), 28(4), spring 1994.

*  *  *

Peter Gizzi relies on disparate thoughts and images to reveal the paradoxical aspects of life, particularly within the context of a postmodern world. His poems seem to be a reaction to the feeling of disorientation produced by a world devoid of intrinsic meaning, one in which the traditional idea of truth is questioned. In other words, Gizzi experiences and uses poetry as a means of recapturing a feeling of meaningful participation in life.

According to Gizzi, however, life is not free of paradox. As the title of his book Artificial Heart suggests, existence implies stark incongruities, exemplified by the juxtaposition of the organic and inorganic. Furthermore, in Gizzi's poetic discourse the experience of incongruity is often expressed through such juxtapositions as memory and the present or subject versus object. The poet and critic Alan Gilbert has compared Artificial Heart to Don DeLillo's Underworld, suggesting that both works attempt to describe and explain the loss of a better world and that what remains is essentially a more violent world whose destructive capabilities have been cultivated and have increased.

Gizzi's call for compassion, reason, and understanding is best shown by his poem "How to Care for a Small Bird":

   Given the baby bird crisis, what if,
   each child were delivered a bird
   having tumbled from its nest
   Two major problems evolve
   One is feeding it
   another preparing it for the wild
   But before you build a home of newsprint and yarn
   try putting it back where it came
   Remember its feat, think of its shock
   to not be dead
   beset in a hand not yet full grown
   moving through space
   doing the best it can

Gizzi's poems reflect his affinity for the work of other poets and artists, particularly Jack Spicer. Critic Andrew Joron has made a distinction between the two poets, however: "Spicer wanted to make poems out of real objects and to make a poem that has no sound in it but the pointing of a finger, Gizzi's poems point toward an object memory that is empty."

In his lengthy poem "Pierced" Gizzi reflects on poetry:

   The heart of poetry is a hollow man
   a heteronym, a forensic test, & casino chip
   a long distance call
   The heart of poetry is fatigue …
   The heart of poetry is an empty lot …
   The heart of poetry is fatigue …

In "Locket" we read the disturbing sentences

   And here is the known world. As fingers duplicate the event of hunger.

In his poem "Life Continues" Gizzi begins with a helpless situation-

   Life continues while the telephone intersects continuity with another party

—and later expresses a sense of betrayal:

   This place once marked an exit. Today it is a wall.

The poem ends with Machiavellian images:

   you of the pandering smile, you with the greasy heart, you lacking denouement …
   Even Gizzi's more optimistic expressions are disconcerting:
   A forecast of hope has provided excitement this afternoon.
      No, a forecast of excitement has provided hope this afternoon.

In "Rewriting the Other and the Others" readers are smothered by the prospect that

   An atmosphere becomes indelible ink.

References to classical Greek and Roman literature and to historical events reflect Gizzi's effort to make sense of a chaotic world, but even with this effort the images come across as somewhat absurd. For example, in "Rewriting the Other and the Others" Gizzi makes reference to Alcestis, whose story has been a favorite among classical and contemporary writers, artists, and composers. Euripides, Jean-Paul Sartre, T.S. Eliot, and Thornton Wilder have written plays about her, and she is the main character in operas by Handel and Gluck. Alcestis is a mythological character who sacrifices herself to save her husband, Admetus, from Zeus's wrath, yet in Gizzi's poem she is flying a kite:

   I wanted to model the morning light
   Too difficult to impasto the sky
   You are Alcestis with a kite
   The years whip by and tears cover answers

In a note accompanying his poem "Ode: Salute to the New York School," Gizzi explains that his poems are "performing bibliographies." His work shows that literary works "survive primarily in the ruins of the texts they leave behind."

Gizzi has received favorable criticism from several American critics as well as from critics in Britain and Australia. Overall, he is considered one of the most talented poets of his generation, one who has reintroduced tradition, beauty, and form into poetry.

—Christine Miner Minderovic