Thursday, May 20, 2010

Peter Gizzi reading in London

Tuesday 18th May
Centre for Creative Collaboration, Acton Street WC1

The space was nice: white-walled, with art installations around the place. Peter Gizzi read from "Some Values of Landscape and Weather" - I think most of the pieces were from this book, and I don't believe he read from anything earlier - "The Outernationale" and some new work. Both the readers were allowed a good length of time; I think it was around 40 minutes each - so that I had to dash off at the end and catch my train.

Like his work generally, his reading was balanced between a knowing, modernist approach, and an acknowledgment of the audience, and of the personal element of his work. He was an engaging, slightly nervous reader (which improved the delivery) and he gave a little background to some of the poems, which was useful. I learned, for example, that "Overtakelessness" - the title of one of his poems - is a term coined by Emily Dickinson to denote a quality that deceased people have, and that the title of a poem in the "A History of the Lyric" sequence, "Objects in the mirror are closer than the appear" is the text on a sticker found next to the wing mirror in American cars. I also learned that the poem "A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me" was inspired by the work of the artist Jess Collins - the long-term partner of poet Robert Duncan. Collins used to buy amateur paintings and "improve" them, and Gizzi commented (tongue-in-cheek I believe) that the text he was improving in this poem was "The New York Times".

Gizzi read the whole of several long sequences, including the following:

Homer's Anger
A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me
A History of the Lyric

I found that Gizzi's American accent gave a different rhythm to the poems from the one I'd assigned when reading them myself. In fact, I mistakenly thought of American accents generally as 'flat' compared to British, giving a more quantitative measure to poetry; but Gizzi's reading wasn't like that at all, with stresses and rising and falling intonation very much in evidence.

It was nice also to find that Gizzi was friendly and approachable, and generally seemed like a nice guy. One of the good things about being a poetry buff is that the artists you admire aren't on some distant stage or surrounded by security; you can just introduce yourself to them and start chatting.

Please note: Drew Milne, the Cambridge-based poet read with Gizzi; he gave an excellent performance which I'll write about separately.

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