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Gizzi and Pindar at the Albion

Stephen Ross

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Hot on the heels of Geoffrey Hill’s third Professor of Poetry lecture this past Tuesday, the Albion Beatnik Bookshop hosted the poets Peter Gizzi and Ian Pindar for a late-evening reading that proved to be one of the most exciting Oxford poetry events of the year.

The poets each read for about 20 minutes and then answered questions from the capacity audience that had gathered at the cozy, elegant shop.

Pindar, an editor, James Joyce biographer, and regular contributor to The Guardian and TLS, read first from his debut collection of poems, Emporium (to be published by Carcanet later this month). Emerging from the broad French Symbolist and Surrealist traditions, via T.S. Eliot, and with more than a touch of NY School glitter and wide allusiveness, Pindar’s learned, witty, and admirably controlled poems tend to follow an attractively quirky logic not often seen in contemporary British poetry. At their best, they expose the dark underside of the Metaphors We Live By:

ASHES

are bodies in disguise
mixing sighs and
tears in a lost garden.

An air of importance
permeates these
cosmonauts of
compost,

which the pomo of sky and stars
ignores.

Foolish men
inhabit their bodies like
metaphors.

Peter Gizzi, who came on next, is the author of four books of poems, most recently Some Values of Landscape and Weather (2003) and The Outernationale (2007), books which rank among the most important and innovative volumes of American poetry of the past decade. He is also the prolific editor of numerous projects including the literary journal o‚Ä¢blék (1987-1993), the Exact Change Yearbook: 1995 (an indispensable collection of international experimental writing), and the lectures and collected poems of Jack Spicer. He teaches at The University of Massachusettes, Amherst, and since January has held the position of Poet-in-Residence at Cambridge.

Though midway through his reading a jazz band struck up across the street at The Big Bang—threatening to lend an air of a Beat “happening” to the proceedings—Gizzi gave a passionate and focused reading from his latest manuscript, Threshold Songs (the first he has ever given):

EDGAR POE

Winter’s the thing.
A place to lay one’s head.
To sleep at last

to sleep. Blue on flesh
in snow light,
iced boughs overhead.

This is a poem about breath,
brick, a piece of ink
in the distance.

Winter’s the thing
I miss. The font is still.
A fanfare of stone air.

How fortunate to have seen these poets—so different, yet so strangely complementary—read from their work in the finest bookshop in Oxford.

Stephen Ross is reading for a DPhil in English Literature at St. John’s College, Oxford. Stephen is a senior editor at the Oxonian Review.