Online Edition: Spring 1999

Artificial Heart

Artificial Heart

Peter Gizzi

Burning Deck ($10)

by Ruth Andrews

Something must be moving at incredible speed.
With pure speed I address you, reality.
      --Peter Gizzi, "Tous les matins du monde"

Peter Gizzi was much lauded--deservedly--for the publication, last year, of the collected lectures of Jack Spicer, which he edited. Unfortunately, his own work as a poet tended to get eclipsed in the melee. Now that the dust has settled let it be loudly proclaimed: Gizzi's Artificial Heart is a carefully chiseled book of poetic wonders.

The oxymoron of the title is certainly one dichotomy that fuels these poems. Much as the Tina Modotti photograph on the book's cover arrests the hands of the puppeteer in mid-motion, converting movement into monument, so does Gizzi offer a many-chambered book whose artifice belies its heart. Nowhere in the book is this point driven home more forcefully than in the long poem "Pierced," in which "the heart of poetry" is explicated amidst an incredibly visceral gasp and rush, memory colliding with techne as they move through the thanatopsic throat:

The heart of poetry is a hollow man
a heteronym, a forensic test, & casino chip
a long distance call

"Pierced" is a masterpiece, a panoramic tracking shot of "that swell vista between the century and now." It is as likely to quote Beach Boys as Eliot; it allows itself "to err, to wander/wonder, to drift"; it peals with music both metrical and tourettic; and its apocalyptic vision flowers before us in full fright.

If "Pierced" gets to the core of this artificial heart, it is surrounded by viaducts that carry life-sustaining information to and fro. Gizzi's work is often concerned with "The Question of Scale," as one of the poems puts it, and it attacks the enormity of this task with fervor. For example: when "The Truth and Life of Pronouns" is examined, their referents seem further away than ever:

You were indifferent to dusk and its originality,
a hard copy, plain in commonality, a single person
xeroxed to the distant field.

Using such relentless yet grounded abstraction, Gizzi fully inhabits our strange era--"New Picnic Time"--and finds a way to address our reality with a "pure speed" that goes far beyond mere description. Yet, conscious of "the useless treasure of an ending," Gizzi never abandons his work to head games. When he does play--and it's no accident that "toy" is an important word in this book--he invokes the spirit of honest conversation rather than pastiche, and of emotion rather than exegesis.

One telltale aspect of Gizzi's heart is his love of music. This shines, surely, in the content of the poems: "New Picnic Time" is named for a Pere Ubu album, and "Fear of Music" after one by Talking Heads; both poems "sample" the lyrics of these band's songwriters in seamless and engaging ways, turning their punk postmodernism to his more archly crafted ends. But more importantly, Gizzi's impeccable sense of line and of stanza create a fine and delicate music throughout. It can be heard in the mirrory metrics of "Lonely Tylenol" ("You are not alone in your palindrome"), in the casual Ashberyisms of "Another Day on the Pilgrimage" ("Will you quit that banging? / Like a sullen barber the blade of the season / mows down the last buds and you find yourself / without pajamas") and in the arpeggios of the canzone "Decoration Day":

each one here
a photograph here
the man fell here
roses stand here
the field where
it was right here
a child exclaims "here"

In other words, "It is a song that carries this day." Gizzi's gorgeous musicality marries his abstractly conjured imagery in a wedding of non-linear bliss, once again demonstrating that the heart of poetry, artificial though it may be, veers away from sense and always toward beauty.

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Spring 1999 Table of Contents