A poet’s notebook reflections on poetry, prose, art, time, and death.
Di Piero (The Man on the Water, 2017, etc.) has established a reputation not only as a prolific poet, but as a critic of the visual arts and an essayist on a wide range of topics. “In college, it seemed all the poets I read wrote prose of a serious kind,” he writes, though he seems to consider himself part of a vanishing tribe: poets who write prose about the world in general rather than confining themselves to the literary microcosm. The author writes in a postscript that when he began publishing his books of essays, his “notebooks had become my workshop, interrogation room, monk’s cell,” and he considered its entries “as out-of-joint essays.” This slim volume works backward chronologically, with the opening and longest section, “From the 2000s,” followed by selections from the 1990s and 1980s. These range from single sentences to paragraphs of varying length and include childhood reveries, critical manifestos, vignettes from cities where he has lived or visited, and musings on the eternal, the transcendent, and the temporal. The pieces don’t really progress or lead anywhere (and, if they did, it would be backward into the past, given the organization), but they occasionally circle back, sometimes revisiting the same topic in almost the same words. There is some lamenting about what poetry has become, carping about critics and academics, and plenty of passion about what Di Piero sees as his mission: “To write a poem that isn’t just a sustained concentrate of feeling but about that condition, that effort to live intensely, write intensely, and maybe not even know the difference.” He places himself in the world as a teacher, a performer at readings, and a critic interacting with other works of art, often visual.
What a poet writes when he isn’t writing poetry. Will appeal most to fellow poets and students of the form.