Getting to know David Giannini and his New Book Span of Thread
When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?
When I was three-and-a-half I went to live in E. Orange, NJ with my grandparents who spoke Italian all the time, and I trace my love of language to hearing Italian before I knew what the words meant. The words themselves seemed to dance in the air as they were spoken. I remained with my grandparents until I was eight. First meanings came sonically, as they do so often in poetry. My grandmother had been an opera singer and so I would hear her sing arias, most often in Italian, music set to words already musical in themselves. Without knowing it as such, I had entered the world of poetry. In first grade I found a green alien creature with a triangular head in the schoolyard. It was next to a swing set, the common and the strange juxtaposed, as often happens in poetry. That encounter was the beginning of sense of poetry. I learned later that the creature was a praying mantis. In the third grade poetry was introduced as a subject in my elementary school, the usual sing-song rhymes, and each person
in class was asked to write a ‘poem’ . The ‘poem’ I wrote has been lost, but I remember its first lines:
When the snow sits on the ground
you can’t hear it, but it makes a sound.
A visiting music teacher set the poem to notes, making it something to be sung. So that really was the first time I discovered the joy of written poetry and had an inkling of its possibilities. Fast forward to junior high school and high school: I read everything I could get my hands on, Shakespeare, Emily Dickinson, Leopardi, Tagore, Dylan Thomas, Troubadour poetry, haiku, the Beats, William Carlos Williams, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Lautremont, Char, Keats and the other English Romantics, Denise Levertov, Ezra Pound, everything and everyone. I practiced writing in forms, villanelles, types of sonnets, haiku, prosepoems, both sequential and nonlinear works, and by the end of high school I knew I had to be a poet. Three years later, living in a rented farmhouse on Florida Mountain, Massachusetts, when I was 21, after I co-founded, edited, and co-published a literary magazine called Genesis : Grasp, in Manhattan, I burned all my early work in a bonfire next to a chipped, discarded, unused gravestone named “Josephine.” No regrets.
Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?
I usually rise at 4 a.m., and while drinking coffee I also begin writing at my desk and continue for two or three hours. It is the time of day when subconscious material mixes with awakening consciousness, when an inter-world is allowed to flourish for a time. It holds the most possibility for finding poetry, at least for me. I work on something fresh or something from the previous day or week (and sometimes I am working on several pieces at the same time.) This is my daily routine or rhythm (as I prefer to say.) It is a happy discipline. I write on and off throughout the day, every day. Every morning begins with poetry that way. It begins in the dark and almost before I know it daylight is coming through windows. These days, I also consider my daily correspondence as part of my literary output, a far lesser part, but it is part of the discipline of practice. There must be nothing ‘forced’ about it, that’s my rule, just one person’s insides responding to another’s insides. I will often be writing to someone and certain words and phrases seem to jump in the air and I catch them and place them in one of the journals or draft folders I keep in my computer. My handwriting looks like chicken scratch or what the Chinese call “grass writing”, so I most often type directly into a Word document. I scribble all the time on handy pieces of paper, napkins, anything, and in tiny pocket notebooks. Later, I can’t always decipher what I wrote!
Where do your poems most often come from—an image, a sound, a phrase, an idea?
Poems for me almost never begin through ideas; they ‘arrive’ through sounds and images and or a phrase that may start a trend. Sometimes a poem starts because I remember a certain scene or person. I remember reading of Mallarme saying to his friend, the painter, Degas, “Poetry is not made with ideas; it is made with words.” Sound advice! Yet it remains amazing to me how many people don’t grasp this: words, not ideas. Start with words, maybe arrive at ideas. Yes, I think the best poems do that. In the last few years I have been writing what I call vertical prosepoems (sic). I have tightened the paragraph margins to suggest a closer visual proximity to poetry, and doing so has forced me to pay more attention to sonic values in the pieces. There’s more to it , but that’s the gist.
Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?
Rilke and Lao Tze, Emily Dickinson and Shakespeare, Laura Riding and e.e.cummings remain at the top of my list as seminal influences. Lautremont and Baudelaire. Cid Corman and Ted Enslin were very important to me through their poetry and decades of correspondence with them. Gary Snyder and Lorine Niedecker, John Haines, Tomas Transtromer, Robert Creeley, Gertrude Stein, George Oppen, Henri Michaux, Francis Ponge, and James Wright also remain very important to me. So do various Spanish-speaking authors, Vallejo, Paz, etc. What appears at their surrealism to us is actually very natural and daily to them, as I believe it also is in the U.S.A. , but it less recognized as such here.
Tell us a little bit about your new collection: what's the significance of the title? are there over-arching themes? what was the process of assembling it? was is a project book? etc.
Span Of Thread is a selection of prosepoems (my preferred spelling) written throughout decades. The title is born of the first piece, which is based on an experience I had as a young child, a very visceral experience of some sort of thread, or something thread-like, going through me, and I found it had something to do with my sense of self and interconnectedness with the universe, something to do with stability and flux at the same time. The book is divided into four sections. In each section, old, middle, and more recent poems are integrated so that a sense of linear time breaks down, as if everything is happening at once. It is a way of attempting to write outside of time. Every poem in the book is anchored in lyric values. The prosepoem is one approach to that mountain we can call Poetry. There are so many paths.
Read a sample poem from Span of Thread here:
A girl once “dressed feathery” in seventh
grade, for church, and perched pretty, big
eyes above a pew. There was some trouble
She prayed that light was once a first
feather and darkness the body of unknown
She wanted to escape, through tears to flee,
yet not to be seized by talons.
Because there was some trouble in her, she
wept for herself.
The Chippewa say we forget when we pity
ourselves that all the while we are being
carried on great wings across the sky.
Today, I saw a Barred owl stressing a
branch—left without a sound. That beauty
sometimes takes off from resistance.
There was no trouble in her.
Light, the first feather. Darkness, the body
of an unknown bird.