BOOK REVIEW: David Giannini’s poems summon a careful cultivation of daily life
In A Moment We May Be Strangely Blended: Poems in Four Sets
By David Giannini
Dos Madres Press
Becket — Perennial poet David Giannini’s newest collection explores the myriad inherent dichotomies of the world—or, more simply put, how the seemingly disparate pieces that swirl about the universe need not be battened down in one place to make sense. “In A Moment We May Be Strangely Blended,” a slender volume featuring a cover emblazoned with an abstract portrait of a man, hinges upon plentiful allusions that span the scope of time. And like the abstract artist, the poet does not necessarily attempt to represent external reality; instead, he seeks to achieve its effect using the myriad shapes, forms, colors and textures gleaned from the world around him.
Allusions run the proverbial gamut from Gilgamesh and “The Odyssey” to Sophocles and Hieronymus Bosch to Shakespeare and Wilfred Owens. In fact, the most alluring kernels in Giannini’s nearly five dozen poems seem to lie at the intersection of the past and the present.
In “Sleeping With Pins and Needles,” the reader is not rooted in time or place until the final line:
From linen bedsheets of ancient Egypt to
wool sheets during the Roman empire,
straight through to cotton in medieval Eu-
rope, bed coverings were for the wealthy.
That you try to sleep where you are, with
pins and needles, do not blame me.
Here’s some latex from a rubber tree. Why
not start a band, or how about a rubber
hammock to use as a slingshot? I will pull it
back for you.
Send me a text after you land.
The space to think along with the poet as he composes his lines is refreshing; the final line, set apart from the first two stanzas, is surprising, and it is in this space that Giannini’s intentions become clear: Humanity’s ability to reside in the present is only possible as a result of our having navigated the past. It is this dichotomy, both striking and startling, that serves as the tie that binds what might otherwise read as seemingly disparate images/references/moments together into a cohesive whole.
On the one hand rife with reference to art, literature, history and culture; on the other hand, Giannini embraces quotidian moments. The result? Intentional space for the unexpected to collide. In “Immigrant,” a young mother “without hope/her children hidden at home” confronts her fear of “faceless I.C.E. cops [who] will track through snow/to pound on her/door.” These magnificent fears, whether real or imagined, threaten to crush her as she stands outside the Becket Country Store. No matter how ostensibly foreign Giannini’s subjects, literal or figurative, the possibility of their unfolding—here, there or anywhere, for that matter—is brought to being in his careful cultivation of daily life. Furthermore, his messages are universal. In “Mountain Road,” a familiar scene unfolds both situationally and thematically:
The drift-fence on this high road in town
catches and holds
much of the snow,
but flakes getting through
interest me most,
how chaos blows.
What is inevitable needs no hope
to uplift and flow beyond barriers,
to land and pile up
white and blameless.
Even in the starkest of landscapes, nondescript save for the season, a universal truth lies directly at the poem’s core, one that is paradoxical in its seemingly contradictory nature that is simultaneously true: “chaos blows” and “what is inevitable needs no hope/to uplift and flow beyond barriers.”
Various iterations of water, including snow and ice, figure prominently in so many of Giannini’s poems. A cursory glance points first to winter and cold; with repetition, the poet begs of the reader to consider something deeper. He seems to play with this symbol, at times conjuring a backdrop of purity and freshness while consistently returning to a universal substance void of anything save for water in an amplified form. It is, in the end, often what we bring to our looking at something deemed “other” that makes it different rather than the thing itself.
In short, to borrow the first line of his poem, “Imagined City,” Giannini’s work is a veritable cacophony of words and sounds and history and images and emotions that will lead the reader down many paths but with no particular destination save for exploration—as if the many parts offered can be assembled in myriad ways to create endless pathways for contemplation and discussion. And so, like the portrait gracing the collection’s cover, perspective with a single viewpoint is abandoned; instead, use is made of finding meaning in the many parts. After all, if “Every poet’s an amateur on the way to the next word …” (taken from the opening line of a prosepoem that appears in Giannini’s “Span of Thread”), then so, too, is the reader.