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Peter Gizzi and K. Silem Mohammad Reviewed Together at Jacket2

By Harriet Staff

Peter Gizzi has been included in conversations around conceptualism lately; and flarfist and sonneteer K. Silem Mohammad certainly has as well—now they are reviewed in conjunct at Jacket2 by Sarah Case, who writes about Threshold Songs and Sonnagrams 1-20, noting that they both “recycle and rework old forms, experimenting with what poetry can do in the present through engagements with the past. As they reinvent the traditional forms of sonnet and elegy, Gizzi and Mohammad put pressure on how contemporary poetry straddles poetic tradition and contemporary life.” More on Mohammad in particular:

Hilarious yes, but, in the rarefied space of a sonnet, placing Whitman’s Song of Myself and Sappho’s archaic lyrics alongside a children’s book about poop is, not leveling, but widening. Many of the Sonnagrams illustrate this always hilarious, often insightful, juxtaposition, as at the end of “Gee Whiz, They’ve hit the Eth Hut with the Eth Teeth (Hit That!)”:

This sonnet won’t be winning any laurels
In prosody or argument, alas:
I’m short on insight, euphony, and morals
(Free enema? No Thanks, I guess I’ll pass).

Hey you, Godot! We waited twenty days!
Oh yeah, we dug up Rutherford B. Hayes.

(Sonnet 24, “Mine eye hath played the painter and hath seeled”)

Mohammad often takes aim at his own poetic project. “The the the the the the the the the the Death (Hey Hey)” falls into the genre of sonnets about writing sonnets:

Hell yeah, this is an English sonnet, Bitch:
Three quatrains and a couplet, motherfucker.
I write that yummy shit to get me rich:
My iambs got more drive than Preston Tucker.

(Sonnet 47, “Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took”)

Mohammad deftly spoofs on the constraints of his anagram project. He has all the letters he needs to begin a sonnet about sonnets, “Hell yeah, this is an English sonnet, Bitch.” The final line of the couplet, the line a traditional sonnet builds towards, arises out of the constraint — “My mad Shakespearean moves are ‘phat,’ or ‘def’: / They weave my pet eel Lenny — what the eff?” “What the eff” could be any reader’s response to many of the Sonnagrams. These sonnets don’t resolve themselves in their final lines. They can’t find closure, revelation, or even despair in the turn because that isn’t the point. Instead of writing sonnets in the twenty-first century, Mohammad writes the twenty-first century into the sonnet.

Case also wonders: “After awhile, do the Sonnagrams get old? Will Mohammad’s clever, risqué, deflationary project be able to maintain itself for 154 sonnets?” And of Gizzi, she writes:

Gizzi is interested in the vocal, the musical, the blur between poetry and song, and the human voice as an instrument that plays upon written words. Because of the absence of personal detail, these intensely private poems read, not as elegies for specific loved ones, but as elegies about how to elegize and what it means to mourn. They are poems of the threshold, the edge, the veil, the divide between life and death that isn’t so much a divide for Gizzi as a question.

Divided into five unnamed sections, the poems in this collection continue the work of Gizzi’s previous books (perhaps Some Values of Landscape and Weather especially). They find their register in the cosmic and the ordinary, the celestial seen in terms of the everyday. Sweeping, planetary movements are pushed right up next to everyday life, as in “Fragment” — “when you feel the planet spin, accelerate, make dust / of everything beneath your bed.” At their core, they are about “The must / at the root of it all, desire / and wanting, must know.” Gizzi uses line breaks to extend meaning and often makes multiple readings possible by omitting punctuation. “This Trip Around the Sun is Expensive” uses a musical repetition and refrain to describe a wintery ocean landscape:

what isinglass
moonlit wave
winter is

Winter surf
all time booming

all time viscous air
not black, night
winter dark blooming

surfs of winter ice

(“This Trip Around the Sun Is Expensive”)

Read the full review here.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, September 19th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.