Thursday, March 22, 2007

"Tree Surgeon Noir"

The latest COMBO, double issue 14/15, has a long interview with Michael Gizzi, one of the best with him I've read. Gizzi's one of those touchstone poets for me, whose work I go back to whenever I feel my own writing slipping & getting crappy. Michael Magee leads him down conversational chutes that turn to his poetic influences, family history, aesthetic development, and take on contemporary poetry. Best of all, Magee asks substantial questions about Gizzi's writing, & how he arrived at his particular way with words:
Michael Gizzi: My two loves were poetry and athletics. I now realize that I was always trying to bring some sense of athleticism into my poems—I wanted things to speed along. I remember that little scissor step you had to do on the sidelines to catch a pass while still remaining in bounds. I tried to get that into a poem, or some sense of that.

Michael Magee: Did you do that by thinking about words themselves as physical?

MG: Well, I would try to get mentally engergized and then write as though I were involved in some sports event. I had bits of Latin like ecce homo and noli me tangere written on my helmet and because I'd studied opera with my father I knew that if you were screaming and your diaphragm was tightened you couldn't get the wind knocked out of you. This was pre-Bruce Lee. I'd run screaming through the line with the ball, which would freak some guys out. "What's he screaming about, and what's that crazy shit on his helmet?" which would give me a second in which to pick a hole in the line. So I really did bring poetry and my love of literature onto the playing field. Did I mention I wasn't a team player?


MM: [Your use of archaic or outmoded language] seems very local and I wonder where you get it from and how you do it and how you decide to do it.

MG: Maybe it's an audio-visual tone, like listening while you read. It also comes from swinging for the fences or tapping a pinstripe for syrup. It's just this side of nonsense, the magic of names and neologisms. It may be three senses channeling an experience at the same time. Sitting in my yard years ago I transcribed perfectly (to my mind) a sentence in birdspeak as "capuana keester meal gringa hocks of ham"—I'm also thinking "language surpasses itself by pointing out its limitations."

MM: Right.

MG: The English language is rich. Imagine finding actual cream in the dictionary, making the hoard that much richer. You'll know it when you see it.

I love interviews. It's a workhorse genre that makes complex ideas from almost any field more approachable. Done right like this, with space to stretch out and focus on the writing, I think it helps more than anything the big money could dream up to bring new readers to new poetry.


Tim Peterson said...

This is great stuff. I like Michael Gizzi even more after reading it.

rodney k said...

I wonder if there's an extant photo of Gizzi in his NOLI ME TANGERE helmet. Great work on the new EOAGH.