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BOOK REVIEW: David Giannini’s ‘Span of Thread’: Poetry that is enigmatic, luminous

Giannini creates a pleasing blurring of lines, a moving between worlds ... it is not your world, but it is.

 

Span of Thread coverSpan of Thread

Červená Barva Press

124 page, $17

At 124 pages, Span of Thread, David Giannini’s latest poetry collection out from Červená Barva Press, packs in more poems than most poetry collections — some very short and profoundly spare, some long with elaborate offbeat stories, and all written in prose stanzas.

There are plenty of concrete, identifiable things in these poems. A “grandpa at his treadle sewing machine” inspires the title of Giannini’s book and the “comic-hideous face” of a jack-in-the-box in the second poem doesn’t even fool kids. In a poem about the speaker’s late pianist father, the things are embedded in a rich metaphor: “I carry a room with a piano inside me, a playable space.”

Sometimes these concretes lead to simple expression, such as in the beginning of “Thanksgiving Cornfield,” which reads, “Wind. Dry stalks. I am grateful for this raw and lovely music and for what is missing.” But most of these poems resist easy interpretations. The expression often tends toward the abstract (“Once in awhile, some infancies dislodge from the greater absorption and become articulated”) and even the concrete things are pieced together in abstract, associative ways that sometimes make the big picture hard to decipher.

But perhaps this is the point.

The poet David Giannini, now a resident of Becket.
The poet David Giannini, now a resident of Becket. Photo: Adine Segalyn

The whole eludes, like many of the images themselves: “the owl we never find,” the “invisible leaves at night under opossum feet.” In “Mice Flats,” Giannini writes, “we and the cat think we see something passing the corners of our eyes…We wait and only if fast enough capture what we might call meaning.” In “Cabin Fever,” we shadow the “desperate inverted wandering” of a “wild dark animal.”

Giannini creates a pleasing blurring of lines, a moving between worlds, as encapsulated by the Paul Eluard epigraph to “Local Thoughts”: “There is another world, but it is in this one.” From the section subtitled “A Glimpse through Seasons” — full of rustic stone walls, cabins, trees, winter skies, barns — this poem finds the other world in nature, as Giannini exquisitely expresses: “The extravagant coma of ice opens its eyes in March….Some weeks until we blow across a dandelion. Sleeping birds rehearse their songs. It is not your world.”

It is not your world, but it is. In “The Winter of Human Nature,” the speakers asks, “Life — where do you take me now, if not below where I am most animal, one that rises on haunches and peers out.” In another poem, one’s own body opens up to reveal “a partition, glass-like, a sliding door of nerves.” Identity is fluid. In “Autumn,” the man standing on his deck “could not discern which of the trembling things were inside him and which were of the forest…Was the forest inside him, too? Was he inside the forest…?” Leaves are feathers and the man a bird who flies back into his house.

For all the tunneling downward and inward, there are a lot of birds in these poems.

Other people are bird-ridden, too. In “Nancy,” the speaker remembers that Nancy “dressed feathery” and “perched pretty, big eyes above a pew.” Seventh-grade Nancy, who had “some trouble in her,” “prayed light was once a first feather and darkness the body of unknown bird.” In another, a woman home from a mental ward with a bird on her shoulder imagines “branches under her eyelids” and “vicious and graceful birds brushing her eyes with their wings.”

“Steep birds ruffle into spring,” providing the title for the second section. In “Lines of Augury,” ecological degradation is beautifully captured by the phrase, “and now not every sky allows birds.”

A lot of skies and clouds also permeate these poems. In one, the moon and clouds make of the night sky “a moving bruise.” “I surrender to the cunning in a cloud,” says the speaker in another poem. There is “no name for the space inside a halo, but you can blow through it to another sky.” There again, one can slip through to another world.

And the people in these poems sometimes want to do so, want to move elsewhere, as if feeling slightly displaced: “If only he could make it to the train, to that hobo junction in his mind, then he could hop it, without stopping, if the train were moving slowly enough for that.” The speaker in “Dusk ”states, “I move indoors, can’t locate what’s gone from me.”
The poems in Span of Thread are studded throughout with many such deep and resonant statements, and that is one of the most rewarding aspects of this collection. We can’t help but be intrigued by lines like “It seemed to him that frontiers were unpacking their shadows,” and “As the sun is setting there are broadcast ecstasies of light and underfed silence, therefore some people pray.”

Some of these lines even return later in the book — several poems in the last section sound thoughts and images from earlier poems, creating a nice symphonic unity that jives with the continuum suggested by the title.

Whether or not one can always decipher the enigmatic tapestry that Giannini has created, his full, luminous phrases draw us in.

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