In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems, 1987-2011

Drawing from the five books of poetry Gizzi has published in the past three decades, this collection is a well-curated cross-section of a career that has always resisted categorization, borrowing from lyric, narrative, and avant-garde traditions. When he writes, “The person who knows where / has made an accurate study // of here,” Gizzi may well be describing himself, a poet whose interest lies in articulating his experience of the world in all its disorienting glory. If “[t]he axis is askew, perhaps / unsettling,” it’s because it’s precisely this “unsettling” that fascinates Gizzi. He inquires:

…Did we never
consider life lyric interruption

to the idyll, laboring to rescue
real time, lost in affection.

When he raises this question, it’s nearly impossible not to subscribe to Gizzi’s version of reality, wherein “belief dictates syntax.” While the spare lyric is one of Gizzi’s most comfortable modes, he writes just as easily into excess, with long prose poems like “Pinocchio’s Gnosis” or the dazzling dramatic monologue “Hard as Ash,” from his first book, in which Gizzi might be borrowing the voice of that poem’s inspiration, a British woman who purportedly died of spontaneous combustion in 1938. As is always the case, Gizzi’s “subject is the content into / which [he] step[s] lovingly,” with compassion and a keen attention.

This book review originally appeared in American Poets, Spring-Summer 2014.