I first met Peter Gizzi in early March, when he gave a reading for about 150 people in a cramped backroom of SET, a community arts centre in Dalston. Denise Riley spoke first. Gizzi closed with ‘Now It’s Dark’, an elegy for his brother Tom – and the title of an expanded edition of new work to be published in the US in the autumn. The poem begins: ‘No one gave me a greater thing / than their time’, and ends with the self-defined purpose of the poet writing through grief:
I recast language in hope
the red oak
my neighbors felled.
It lived over a hundred years, glowing.
Now, neither music or rhyme,
just night, tin, and sky.
Across numerous small-press chapbooks, artist books, and six full-length volumes of poetry, Gizzi has been trying to recover the presence of what has been lost. I have recently become enthralled by the world of these new poems, which are animated by our experience of time and by what Adrienne Rich has called ‘the innermost whir of the daily curtain rising on outer catastrophe’. These are poems of the rooms in which we sit, and pace, and remember what the future once meant to us.
On 1 June I interviewed Gizzi remotely, battling all the familiar technological obstacles, after he had returned to his home in Amherst, western Massachusetts, for lockdown. The world has irrevocably changed since that unseasonably warm late winter evening in east London. I began by asking what that meant for him.