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Peter Gizzi, Fierce Elegy. Wesleyan Press, 2023

“Consider the Wound," the final poem in Peter Gizzi’s haunting collection, Fierce Elegy, begins

no ideas but in wounds, I is that wound

with its slight aura, archival glamour, gas-lit corridors,
its famous sunsets that dayglo on water

A gesturing towards William Carlos Williams’ well-tread dictum, “No ideas, but in things.”

A command, in both cases, to turn away from, and to return to.

Just as Williams urges us to turn away from the wheelbarrow as metaphor, and instead return to the red wheelbarrow on a dusty rural Jersey front lawn, so Gizzi urges us to return to the wound-the physical, mental, emotional, spiritual wounds which, in his hands, are the very things that ground us, keep us grounded, in the body, in the mind and in the soul.

Later in the same poem

to consider wounds that grow through life, illuminate,
and expand into a primal struggle

And in Anne Carson. The Beauty of the Husband

A wound gives off its own light
surgeons say.
If all the lamps in the house were turned out
you could dress the wound
by what shines from it.

The bright light given off by the wound created by an unfaithful husband.

And turning back to Gizzi

Indexical zeal for origins and etymologies

Wund, wuntho, wunda, und

The mother opens every wound, the wound opens
every word

The wound as an opening-not just into the body, but also (in)to language.

Time again, these poems ask us to consider how it is that we come into language, which is, of course, also, a coming into self.

In his glowing poem, “Nimbus”

it’s so random

becoming a self

the secret

to my own

piece of sky

In Gizzi’s poetics, the self is never simply a singular “I”, certainly not simply a maker of authorial intent.


Rather, language, the self, the lyric voice-are all part of the same poetic soup; coming into being within something larger than an "I", within something closer to the sky. The primal sky. Under which we reside. And take our breaths. And form the sounds that make up words.

And yet, through these poems, we find that silently lurking under that sky is the constant presence of death. The pain and anguish that comes from a life lived.

In “Ecstatic Joy and Its Variants”

as surely as this is about seeing you dance naked

it is also about the sky and Mahler in the wan distance
heard by a child

as surely as the sadness never leaves and that music
heals the night with its deeps and neon

“That music”, “heard by a child”—and one cannot help but think here of Mahler’s wrenching Kindertotenlieder—Songs for Dead Children—written in the bright summer of 1901 after a series of health scares.

A series of elegies written by the poet Friedrich Ruckert after the death of his daughter. Three years after their composition, Mahler would lose his own daughter to diphtheria.

Our word “elegy”, comes from the Greek ἔλεγος (elegos), meaning “poem or song of lament” which is possibly related to the Old Armenian եղէգն  (elegn) meaning “reed”.


When a reed is turned into a pen, we use it to write. When a reed is turned into an instrument, we use it to make song.

Again, in the same poem

O bed of stray barrettes, discourse, and water
bed of laughter, hot takes, dried blood
bed of cedar bows, pinhole light, thing music

“Thing music.” The music of the things we love. The things we surround ourselves with. As well as the things we lose.

The things that we lose make music, as much music, as the things that we love. It’s that music, ultimately, which is ours.


Maybe the only thing that is truly ours. And we unleash it.

In “Spooky Action"

The body falling away into a dusky word.
Quiet, intimate, sprung, exciting the sorceries in me.
To be unleashed as a verb.
Free to twirl, to disco, to walk away undone.

Reading the poems in “Fierce Elegy” is to be “undone.” To be undone, unraveled out into the mystery of something bigger than the “I”, bigger than the poem and its writing.


To be undone out into a place wild with the possibilities of every-present grace.

Ann Pedone’s recent books include The Medea Notebooks (Etruscan Press), and The Italian Professor’s Wife (Press 53. ) Her poetry, non-fiction and reviews have recently appeared in Michigan Quarterly Review, Posit, Texas Review, The American Journal of Poetry, the Dialogist, Barrow Street, 2River and Tupelo Quarterly. She graduated from Bard College with a degree in English Literature, and has a Master’s in Chinese Language and Literature from Berkeley. She is the founder and editor in chief of the journal and small press, αntiphony.

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