In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems, 1987–2011

In Defense of Nothing: Selected Poems, 1987–2011

by Peter Gizzi

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<P><B>Runner-up for the William Carlos Williams Award (2015)</B></P><P>Since his celebrated first book of poetry, Peter Gizzi has been hailed as one of the most significant and distinctive voices writing today. Gathered from over five collections, and representing close to twenty-five years of work, the poems in this generous selection strike a dynamic balance of honesty, emotion, intellectual depth and otherworldly resonance—in Gizzi's work, poetry itself becomes a primary ground of human experience. Haunted, vibrant, and saturated with luminous detail, Gizzi's poetry enlists the American vernacular in a magical and complex music. In Defense of Nothing is an immensely valuable introduction to the work of this extraordinary and singular poet. Check for the online reader's companion at</P>

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780819574312
Publisher: Wesleyan University Press
Publication date: 03/03/2014
Series: Wesleyan Poetry Series
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 244
File size: 2 MB
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

<P>PETER GIZZI is the author of Threshold Songs, The Outernationale, Some Values of Landscape and Weather, Artificial Heart, and Periplum. He teaches at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.</P>

Read an Excerpt




Some sky of hydraulic spring Some season ever So the tree for even a twig O branch O earth

there is too (psalm)
Neither a pool nor a crown And day spills to where is O water

Begin! Begin! So sing of lever Are eyes shy? O iris O onyx Into blouse of

Air go there!


Put your map right with the world

The person who knows where has made an accurate study

of here

As to know implies a different reading


faith enters and must be pinned and sighted

A church tower is good for reference but losing ground


satellites orbiting the earth track a true arc

but perhaps too grand for everyday distances

And never mind about the bewilderment

"I'm at sea"



To describe a logic of sight pull the surface onto target and arrive at zero aperture. Then fluctuate to a face, reproduced in serial format, superimposed upon marginal pedestrians,
traversing a polarity of earth.

The axis here is askew, perhaps unsettling, the way physical equilibrium slides into multiple perspective. This place where sight informs the eye as gate to phenomenon, a bridge to impulse the imaginary. Simply

she was feeding bread to pigeons in the park. So begin this sentence with rain and square the surrounding flat with common traffic. I move through, to get here. If you want me, you will find me in the garden of vestiges, next to

the sweet water cistern. Where the old port remains, a water mark on granite, abutted with grass and a stone path leading to other places that for the moment I am not interested in, as I take serious your claim to provoke you.

And I will follow your instructions,
however silly, however sublime, until you have found me, indistinguishable from what you call your self.
The way I wear you about my mouth, as a crease, deepening every time I smile to look at you.

Look at me. I'm serious, I must find the way, to say, we have arrived.
For it is you who instruct me in the laws of perspective, these many converging lines, drawn to perception.
So that I have become only a star or an asterisk or a compass rose. Signifying

location, this possibility of place. True.
It's been said that the burial of the dead is the beginning of culture, as we know,
no other. And I remain raw.
Vapor digit tapping at my wrist,
the talon, the dorsal fin and the panther claw. The value of negative space

and the rationale of talisman does not parse, will not parry from this dearth. As emotions surround the edge of the planet adjusted to actual people we meet.
What could the difference of this construction intend in a world of moments, merely fragments provided to express conversation

or random noise signaling gray space,
to be inserted within an imported structure?
Birds migrate over cityscape and arrive in my backyard to a mutiny of peaceful dawn. Then a description of equality is scored, as a rhetorical flourish is installed for testimony. I flag. I stammer.

A banner to the burden that all things that are, must not be, in me. Only,
will you not smile when I wave?


He was going to take it to the next town.
Though the park was empty the pond bristled with life. He had not an answer within 100 sq. acres or it was only answers that tweeted about.
Who was this lonely figure in a landscape and once he is made known would the narrative slack and come to a warm bed and slippers?
It was no no and yes yes all afternoon on the thruway. It was a big state said the signs and so did the sky say big state.


It begins with socks in a drawer and continues to laundry bags to the future. In the Food Mart everything is above the child's head. Always looking up. Always lifting our eyes to heaven. The horizon is your mother's repose on the divan after daily chores. Outside rain repeats rain. I remember wanting hugs but was given food. I have grown into the sweater my aunt gave me. I was born on the third chapter of the novel forever asking what happened in the beginning. In the beginning sky. In the beginning earth. The aquarium is a prism at sunset in the library which articulates light on the spines as both a constant and ephemeral beauty. Come over to our house. I have grown into this sky I wear about my shoulders everywhere I am. The hamper in the mind is endless. Let me work my image into soil and treebark and leafstem. This is not who I remember. The first body was an environment a land-mark on the frontier of tomorrow. The body of discourse is an apology of abuses and I am without reparation. In the meaning of the day the way one turns and looks — eyes for hands. Today the stranger the exile and spook are in my shaving mirror. In my dream you are real. I am as one who each day stands behind the tapestry and receives the needle to pull the thread taut and pass it back through. The design is no one's. Is there justice in every sentence? Then I read "death is not being unable to communicate but no longer being able to be understood" or something like that. Grass was the first species to cover the earth. I am incomplete. Indeed. All that was left is the state and the miles under my feet.


I am not a poet because I live in the actual world where fear divides light I have no protection against the real evils and money which is the world where most lives are spent

I am not a poet because I cannot sing about lost kingdoms of righteousness instead I see a woman in a blue parka crying on the street today without hope from despair

I am not a poet for there is nothing I can say in smart turns to deflect oncoming blows of every day's inexistence that creeps into the contemporary horizon

I am not a poet but a witness to bear the empty space that becomes our hearts if left to loiter or linger without a life to share

I've seen sorrow on joy street and heard the blur of the hurdy-gurdy and I too know what evening means but this is not real — poetry is and from this have I partaken as my eyes grow into the evolved dark


This is my poem. The one I was afraid to show you. A poem to provide against the voices that will ultimately ensure my failure in this endeavor. This poem is a pillow, small and embroidered, the satin death pillow used to prop up the face for one last viewing. All attempts of understanding finally and thoroughly erased. This is my poem. The one I tuck under my eyelids when looking inhibits the distinctions of what can be seen. And air always present, always there to stimulate the hair at the base of my neck. Insert this chill exactly where you presume to have found me, only to uncover an abandoned parking lot for eyes. Look harder and you will discover we are all matched to this swatch of steel gray that is as wide as the seam on my scrotum but longer than the chalk ray on the board in the classroom to represent infinity. Silent and irreversible. A fault line running from one hole to another. Forever. That we are drawn, together. So see you on the other side. Even if we can't represent that which we were hoping to resemble. But for one day heaven. See the tips of buds swaying in union beneath a spring sky so faint so blue that it could only suggest a further devastation, as if we were fated to repeat this day, as if we could. It came and went without the anxiety of anticipation and its finality of passage and unannounced significance stains us good. Even the colors fade so we can only imagine we were once so alive. Sad nothing can be held so thoroughly we might assimilate it. Only in the letting go will the full concentration of tone bleed into the periphery of our lives and settle into a patina that can never be altered. I surrender my vision thus. Because I don't understand. That joke isn't funny anymore. It cuts me precisely where laughter is a departure from this parlor. I live on flight 405 departing into an icy altitude — cold and detached. I'm here despite your notices and obituary. That plane didn't crash. It still hovers around my head. The constant hum of its engines reminds me I still haven't landed. I know this by the way a hand like a landing strip will reach over to wave here, here, here. So here again is the earth. Not the idea of it, but that clump of dirt and weeds outside my door each day — humiliates me. So long. I'm off to my job, alone in the clouds where my fathers live perhaps younger than I am now. Having left me to dinners, movies, books and with this incredible sickness you call enthusiasm. It's a smoke screen though. For it was me they stuck out there in that winter hole. Earth so frozen it came up in slags that still get caught in my throat every time you tell me you love me. So don't. I mate with these voices on the other side. Their memos become the mottos of my solo walk into emblem. As the torn metal of all industrial accidents flowers in my brain. Yeah, I saw the broadcast. Transmission deceived.


No one lives there

X and delirium
— barely wider

than a sun

How many greater

than ourselves is air

Feed the candle

the gate

and your house


I guess if we get to be here today and watch this movie together it has all been worth these past thirty-odd years it took to get here on this Tuesday. In this city.
Is why I'm here. To know you.
I will compare knowing and saying and tell of all such coordinates that run together to the river replete with its ghosts in this instance of talk.
But we won't scuttle. Will we?
As it gave the first buoy of its name.
Friendship, so entire, so perfect you will hardly find the like elsewhere.
Even if the buildings are all in disrepair,
please, don't let that inform us.
It's meant for us, to pass by that dogwood tree in May as our voices carry into Thursday twilight.
May I keep this promise?
Along with those petals flaunting the new season.
Little pennants of time. Boundary stones to be collected on the periphery, where I live,
and where I remain, so I'll be here thinking of you.
Don't worry. I'll work hard. Places everyone.

When sunlight accumulates in afternoon.
A box of elderberry lists behind the alcove ...
then description fails the reader and we are left with only shapes and patterns. Still a single leaf trembles on the breeze.
Emblematic, a lovely badge, serrated and at peace with the day that has flowered beyond the notion of our need.
Where the reader lists. The poet builds a room,
it can be small or grand depending on the tone as in June her garden is real.
An intricate lace of affection to correspond when wanting fails. Perhaps a yellowed doily on your grandmother's nightstand like a tune, long off, played on a toy piano. Clink. These lapses from time to time fill hours and cars on the highway. A room to include your ramble,
as well as itinerant interlopers visiting from unforeseen lake districts — with its news of festival lights and famous contests —
where the song dies down into rotting hulks,
trunks exposed at the sleeve of the shore.
These transitions or seams if you like inform me. Water and land disguised as matter.
A carcass dressed and open for inspection revealing nothing but process, lovely and inescapable from our own play.

I was waiting behind the skene, worn,
ravaged from too many trips to the provinces,
too many performances, too many nights accosted by the rabble. Some people got a lot a gun.
What makes you different? Show me.
Here's a dime. Call your dead and find out what they've learned;
having been too preoccupied with the house and its metaphors and where the objects would lead them. Too selfish to watch out for us. Abandoned,
beautiful and wide-eyed, developing the tools to maintain the glorious liberties we carry in our hearts and pockets. Then something else did come to stand in its place: namely you.
Which is where I'm going tonight,
despite the distance from seam to shadow.
For I am relative to your I, while this page walks into my side, where the sun sets. It's a special light this.
When evening takes a sip off the din of long endurance, becalm, be near me always — book. So I and I and I we go.
Together under the elms. Won't that be nice?
To watch one by one all the colors drain out of the sky into our organs.


The small heart opens out to meet the world

it carries news

of kindness for there is only this and

these small hands offering the weather

My street is not the same since we've met

and darker for goodbye

The fierce life is quiet

tenacious as a parlor for one where people are

an effort outside

the walk to your house is mirrored

at night out my window the crowded



If I could tell you this or tell where this is or where on a given map this being is then I would give it to you though I will not name it which would not serve this being the unnamed force the absolute unnamed this of our experience together or to believe that this place could be made or if belief could make this space possible then I will meet you there live with you there and discover the essential experience of being there together the irreducible together of this being you being me articulate and lithe


On September 20, 1938, Miss Newcombe, 22, combusted before a roomful of people while waltzing in a dance hall in Chelmsford, England. Blue flames erupted from her body and in a matter of minutes she was reduced to a small pile of ash.

Some trees cannot grow without fire.
Private catastrophes at the speed of Phaethon.
What was X? Without faith an integer of light broke into cities of geometry. Define Y.
In the desert it is all calculus. In an overcoat in winter, without socks I wandered into night.
One by one all the bars fell into place.
The day of the talking stones is no longer. The dreams of metamorphosis.
The morning you woke up and for a moment forgot to call them "dead," it was the morning of the poem. The subject is the content into which I step lovingly. This lapidary effect of all sons sets where houses invest the notions of "home" or "hearth" and heat gives even as the earth rolls over into night and is contained or content to remain itself while still breaking into flower or streets with cadences of wind.
Your musics insist to inform me by remaining plastic. With you I will revise the entire possibility of twilight.
The day is woven into images we adhere to only memory of light against a screen door ajar. Then children's faces appear. A thematic see-saw,
silhouetted now — romantic and real.
How can we say in this hour, who will resolve the interplay of your countenance,
this ellipsis, the way you come to me pictorially, in time, with space that is real. Though someone will die and I'll have to wear a tie, again.
This is only a poem to say I love you.
I love you too. I've been so happy.
Happy! These sun notes bend the porpoise in my eye, quiet the pony inside. You know,
when the creek meets the little paper hats floating out to sea. The cabby goes past your stop but the bar on the corner wears a preternatural smile, is more companionable than what you call home.
So you discover hospitality in tight pants where the traffic goes both ways.
Has anyone asked you lately are you all right in your new homes and does your electric bill depress you when they cut your powwow?
I was going to build you a flower.
Then the day broke apart. Big leaves halved and greasy as a waxy stem revealed a voice I misplaced when I was a girl.
It was summer and we were there and so was the phonograph and the missing relatives drowned earlier in the century during the great migration of sentences when words were collected with a winnowing fan. You should have seen it.
I did. Then it was another day arrived unlike the stubble that had grown up before, clear and wide with a glint around all the small names belonging to the places they are keeping.
When objects become the subject, a veritable picnic of description that spells glee on the new horizon. Time is our only subject and the mutability of forms. Time compact and out of sight. I want the whole essay.
Collocated with clouds and silver.
Still, sky makes its cinematic sweep over this burg and to think we get to have coffee together now and then is pretty terrific don't you think? I have come to tell of the discrepancies of light, material or otherwise. It makes no difference as the meal went to waste outside on the knoll where the neighborhood is tucked into the nights.
Rest safely my beloved for I am coming.
I was going about my business, the way I do and then from nowhere came a fable to my doorstep and would not let me alone.
Not now. Not ever. This neon winked its marquee on my forehead and it flashed — true and good. Not just any good, but good as in a farmer's prayer about earth and work and rest. O mommy is it true?
Do these beans grow to the sky?
It is the alphabet lies close to ground.
Broken tile to marvel at and so much emotion goes into learning to make these letters.
A spell against time. Chumming for clarity and a pronoun to share. Though twenty-six sounds are not enough. But what the news didn't say is she loves her darling Comacho the darling way he attends her every sob and whimper. And do not mistake this freedom for a swagger. My heart was shorn long before speech and the act itself overbounds my physical bluster, here in a body, where an axe splits the wind from my mouth. This trill at the edge.
Look kids here's the tempo. So pick it up.
The name of this song is new feeling, because that's what it's about. No monk on a stoop.
I am here. Ask me now.
Saying leave me alone, I am only a poem,
what do you want from me? What do you want from me teeth? To incise earth? No rest to pillow my weird. O clack of breeze. I am not abated.
When is a child's bottom lip enough to say — quit it?
This thought bit me the other day. As all my pictures have fallen but that don't make 'em go away. Meanwhile there is not an index or CliffsNote for you, wanting to walk blankly off into a grove where all punctuation lists, like you, brilliant in its particularity and distinction. The grass outside is waving and alive with protein disguised in so many colors and shapes that form itself is the only envelope I await. "God bless Captain Vere!" Now winnow me under harbor lights. Who sleeps in the now of flowers my bed of prince? I capsize into the birth mark on my thigh. I am marked and can never be yours, but this allows me to be eternally deferential. I dream of pulleys in the sun all day and no water will cleanse the little stain I wear about my smile.
For shame is my hidden lever to fulcrum the earth. "How's your gear Squeak? All in order?" O leaf out my window.
O sky where the tape is blank and loops. I am sad and strange in the late morning, in the early afternoon,
in the middle of the night. Yes moon!
My hands shake. Where the distance of my life is my arm's length. No place to live I've been told. No place, I've been told, and still you want to throw me outta my tent. Having lived among factories and highways in the nuclear age,
I have learned to pronounce "love"
and to recognize my name written on trees on rocks in the sky above. Yep, that corn's straight off the cob, mister. Then it said "I love Dolores" in white paint against iron on the rusted trestle. On my way to the heart of American radio or summer. I was going to see my friend the human. Do you understand? When lips kiss and make a seal, this is the first hermetic doctrine.
I wanna hold your hand. Is there something I can do now? When the cello bow abrades my breast will I dissolve finely into air?
Do I have to die for you then to hear these lines that I make profligate and plaintive for you.
They are parallel lines whose origin is irretrievable. Each one tells a history.
I remember streets houses trees overhead.
Someone called my name, my dogtag whistles over here; over there as an adult I want to thank my family for how I feel this morning, living under a bridge scaring children. An unforgivable geometry insists its repertoire on our dialogue.
Learning to say "my wife my car my color."
I have seen your thin purpose all my life.
So what is an anthem, and growing up there is a lesson in it. When all forms have been emptied can I begin? I doubly derive my body.
Running ahead of myself, beyond memory's reach,
the source sprang incarnadine. Teeming with information. Trembling my standard returned.
I knew then this body was not invincible.
Who shall know this posture, this morning's slide rule.
I needs. I wants. A vista to combat the way shadow splits and divides on either side of a pelvic blade. Unity in strict notation.
Dear ghost. Dear reader. I have seen you.
And this at least is one definition, I include,
to become, who I call, myself. A remembrance got on autumn footpath scurrying on our way to life. So now when I line up and belong to persons next to me, I'll be good and eat my soup. But I'm sick.
It's getting harder to say now, this exploded present, doubling back moebius style on your gaze and the air thick thick with tongues. You'll say it's too discursive.
But I have learned more from chicken soup than all the bright contests. So praise the retarded man serving me coffee at the meeting, he has a place. Bless him.
And you think I'm kidding.
What did you do today for someone? Or rather what have I done to sit here. Call me Dismal.
I wake up a thousand times a day. And ask three questions. Are you shy are you lost are you blue? Is there nothing left for you?
Only on holiday or for one holiday only?
From boneyard to schoolyard. All the good it does you now. Waiting in a parking lot.
O pioneer your keel has run aground,
your stars have betrayed you.
There is no instruction for this light,
no room bigger than a lung. Who can say in common speech what the crowds were cheering for.
Rushing in at the edges of the map lamenting the end of the forest. Open the theater,
place the ring inside. A curtain of birds and fish. A curtain of trees and hills and vistas. Now bring about words to heal.
Sentences to bring about change. Grammar that shall inhibit evil? Now: clap hands.
Father tell me what you think of me. Is it a face or a factory? Come here to distinguish the burden of a smile. Attached to lightning. As the world was revealed then returned to your sandwich. I am who sent me.
Obvious and otherwise a trope was. This laundry line strung from year to year reaches to the woman I am becoming. Always leads to my fear.
The difficulties of ambiguity. Or your smile chosen. A vehicle that allows no passage beyond,
but the surface is bright. You're wrong about clarity,
blue inescapable blue. Not a red sky at night.
What delight can I afford? Though this might be leading nowhere. This is a composite map leading me to the horizon of afternoon, where the you is not erased or blown away but remains coal ash intact at the bottom of my mouth. A music to enhance our margin plotting to broaden this plain. My field of reference larger than.
To unfold stillness, and giving time time,
I learned to trust the history of my own backyard.
To this day I don't read newspapers.
After all the sun we had. At twilight a salamander will appear in the core of the reactor.
The day I gave my wedding dress away.


Excerpted from "In Defense of Nothing"
by .
Copyright © 2014 Peter Gizzi.
Excerpted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

<P>FROM PERIPLUM, AND OTHER POEMS<BR>Song of the Interior Begin<BR>Periplum<BR>Blue Peter<BR>Still Life With Automobile<BR>Thirty Sentences for No One<BR>Poem for John Wieners<BR>Despite Your Notices<BR>Psalm<BR>Deus ex Machina<BR>Song of the Den<BR>Periplum VII (A Valentine)<BR>FROM ARTIFICIAL HEART<BR>New Picnic Time<BR>Toy<BR>Another Day on the Pilgrimage<BR>Speck<BR>Will Call<BR>Ledge Domain<BR>Lonely Tylenol<BR>Reed<BR>Caption<BR>Pierced<BR>Fables of Critique<BR>A Textbook of Chivalry<BR>FROM SOME VALUES OF LANDSCAPE AND WEATHER<BR>Objects in Mirror are Closer Than They Appear<BR>The Ethics of Dust<BR>A History of the Lyric<BR>Add This to the House<BR>Some Values of Landscape and Weather<BR>Overtakelessness<BR>Hawthorne<BR>Edgar Poe<BR>Revival<BR>To be Written in no Other Country<BR>In Defense of Nothing<BR>Lessons in Darkness<BR>It was Raining in Delft<BR>Fin Amor<BR>Beginning With a Phrase<BR>From Simone Weil<BR> FROM THE OUTERNATIONALE<BR>A Panic That Can Still Come Upon Me<BR>The Quest<BR>Stung<BR>Untitled Amherst Specter<BR>A Telescope Protects its View<BR>That's Life<BR>Nocturne<BR>Vincent, Homesick for The Land of Pictures<BR>Wintry Mix<BR>Saturday and its Festooned Potential<BR>The Moonlight Defense<BR>Bolshevescent<BR>The Outernationale<BR>FROM THRESHOLD SONGS<BR>The Growing Edge<BR>Lullaby<BR>Hypostasis &amp; New Year<BR>Eye of the Poem<BR>Snow Globe<BR>Analemma<BR>This Trip Around the Sun is Expensive<BR>Basement Song<BR>Pinocchio's Gnosis<BR>Tiny Blast<BR>Tradition &amp; The Indivisible Talent<BR>Apocrypha<BR>A Note on the Text<BR>Oversong<BR>History is Made at Night<BR>Bardo<BR>Modern Adventures at Sea<BR>Fragment (To the Reader)</P>

What People are Saying About This

Adrienne Rich

“Peter Gizzi’s disturbing lyricism is like no other—the innermost whir of the daily curtain rising on outer catastrophe . . . we are ‘listening to a life / un-lived any other way”—unmistakably, as poetry.”

Ben Lerner

“Peter Gizzi’s poetry at once captures the deadening, and the standardization of our culture and wakes us up, makes us ‘silly with clarity.’ Through his poetry we become almost painfully attuned to the present. He can name with precision our medicated, mediated insensibility and then startle us out of anesthesia with the beauty of his singing. Gizzi can move from the ghostly, flickering edge of perceptibility to focused intensity at disorienting, Dickinsonian speed. His poetry is an example of how a poet’s total, tonal attention can disclose orders of sensation and meaning. His beautiful lines are full of deft archival allusion, and his influences range from Simonides to Schuyler, but those voices, those prosodies, aren’t ever decorative; Gizzi is gathering from the air a live tradition.”

From the Publisher

"Peter Gizzi's poetry at once captures the deadening, and the standardization of our culture and wakes us up, makes us 'silly with clarity.' Through his poetry we become almost painfully attuned to the present. He can name with precision our medicated, mediated insensibility and then startle us out of anesthesia with the beauty of his singing. Gizzi can move from the ghostly, flickering edge of perceptibility to focused intensity at disorienting, Dickinsonian speed. His poetry is an example of how a poet's total, tonal attention can disclose orders of sensation and meaning. His beautiful lines are full of deft archival allusion, and his influences range from Simonides to Schuyler, but those voices, those prosodies, aren't ever decorative; Gizzi is gathering from the air a live tradition."—Ben Lerner

"Peter Gizzi's disturbing lyricism is like no other—the innermost whir of the daily curtain rising on outer catastrophe . . . we are 'listening to a life / un-lived any other way"—unmistakably, as poetry."—Adrienne Rich

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