Poem: In Defense of Nothing

Poetry’s supposed timelessness means that we sometimes overlook its capacity to memorialize a precise moment, but Peter Gizzi’s “In Defense of Nothing” — an earlier poem from this major American poet’s long career — reminds me that poetry, too, is a seismograph of vibes. Anyone familiar with the concept of the “1990s” might recognize the cunning of this poem’s slacker mood — the whatever and the wonder precisely calibrated, neither one of them surrendering fully to the other. It’s a road poem too: full of the sideways views of trees and trailers, the landscape lived at Interstate speed. This cool mix of understatement and awe, of industrial society and its atoms, preserves the poem’s present. It’s important and accurate that the poem ends with a hint of ironic and plaintive liberation — a power line, a poetic line “broken free.” Selected by Anne Boyer

In Defense of Nothing

By Peter Gizzi

I guess these trailers lined up in the lot off the highway will do.
I guess that crooked eucalyptus tree also.
I guess this highway will have to do and the cars
and the people in them on their way.
The present is always coming up to us, surrounding us.
It’s hard to imagine atoms, hard to imagine
hydrogen & oxygen binding, it’ll have to do.
This sky with its macular clouds also
and that electric tower to the left, one line broken free.

Anne Boyer is a poet and an essayist. Her memoir about cancer and care, “The Undying,” won a 2020 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction. Peter Gizzi’s recent books include “Now It’s Dark” (Wesleyan University Press, 2020), “Sky Burial: New and Selected Poems” (Carcanet, 2020) and “Archeophonics” (Wesleyan University Press, 2016), which was a finalist for a National Book Award. A new book, “Fierce Elegy,” is forthcoming from Wesleyan in 2023.

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