To listen to the interview with Peter Gizzi, please click here.
Interview Length: 16:40
Peter Gizzi has authored several books of poetry, including In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems 1987-2011 (Wesleyan, 2014), Threshold Songs (Wesleyan, 2011), The Outernationale (Wesleyan, 2007), Some Values of Landscape and Weather (Wesleyan, 2003), Artificial Heart (Burning Deck, 1998), and Periplum (Avec Books, 1992). His editorial work includes o·blēk: a journal of language arts (1987-1993), The Exact Change Yearbook (Exact Change/Carcanet, 1995), The House That Jack Built: The Collected Lectures of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan, 1998), and with Kevin Killian, My Vocabulary Did This to Me: The Collected Poetry of Jack Spicer (Wesleyan, 2008), as well as The Nation and Conjunctions. He is a faculty member at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Peter Gizzi is an atypical – and for that all the more welcome – participant in the Sounding Translation podcast series. He is not a translator, but rather an editor who has published many contemporary French poets in translation in o·blēk magazine.
During the interview, Gizzi discusses his introduction to contemporary French poetry at age 14, reading Keith Waldrop’s translation of Claude Royet-Journoud’s Reversal, while reading, at the same time, Rimbaud and Baudelaire against the Beats and Ezra Pound. He describes his ongoing involvement with French poetry through his relationships with American translators in the 1980s, including Keith and Rosmarie Waldrop, Michael Palmer, and Norma Cole, as well as friendship he developed with Emmanuel Hocquard in the mid-1980s after Gizzi was very moved by a reading of Hocquard’s Elegies in New York. Gizzi also recounts some of his experiences as a poet invited to France, including a special conference held in o·blēk’s honor at the Fondation Royaumont in 1990 under the auspices of Emmanuel Hocquard and Juliette Valéry’s Un Bureau sur L’Atlantique, and residency in the fall of 1999 at the centre international de poésie Marseille (cipM), which led to the publication of Revival, translated by Pascal Poyet (Marseille: cipM/Spectres Familiers, 2003). Gizzi also praises Stéphane Bouquet’s recent translation of The Outernational (as L’Externationale; Paris: José Corti, 2013).
Reflecting on his initial attraction to contemporary French poetry, Gizzi notes that, since he was reading it in his native language, it did not seem to him to be foreign or distant: “It seemed transparent in some way. Just another poetry.” As his relationship to it deepened, he admired its “simple presentation of larger abstract ideas in very precise and clear language” and its conversation with the Objectivists, especially George Oppen and Lorene Niedecker, especially in its compression and density. As a poet, Gizzi relates intimately with what he calls the “oblique” angle that contemporary French poetry takes in its “confrontation with the real: “. . . by reading something at an angle, you’re actually finding a way of giving it relief and therefore freeing it from the master-narratives that we give certain events, the kind of binding narratives that nationhood brings on . . . .”
This interview was conducted during the Écrivains au Bord de la Mer Festival in La Baule, France, on 18 July 2013. Ambient noises (wind, seagull cries) may be heard throughout the interview, as it was conducted out of doors.
Photo: Peter Gizzi
Correction: At 2:04, Gizzi identifies Claude Richard and Jacques Roubaud as the publishers of 21 + 1 Poètes américains d’aujourd’hui/21 + 1 American Poets Today (Delta, 1986); in actuality, however, Claude Richard was the publisher of this 2-volume English-and-French anthology, which was edited by Claude Royet-Journoud and Emmanuel Hocquard.