Reviewed by J.R. Solonche
Already Long Ago
by David Giannini
Dos Madres Press
June 2023, 108 pages, ISBN 978-1-953252-79-1
He has been nominated for The National Book Award. He has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. He has published more than 40 collections of poems and prose poems. His work has appeared in many national and international magazines and anthologies. He has received numerous awards, including the 2021 James Hearst Poetry Finalist Prize of the North American Review. His name is David Giannini. What’s that you say? You never heard of him? Well, you should. In fact, you should have a long time ago, but never mind. The sorry state of American poetry and how political correctness has gotten us there is a subject for another day. Today’s subject is Already Long Ago, Giannini’s latest book, the poems of which he “selected from a year’s worth of work [including] lyric and narrative poems, songs, prose poems, hybrid haibun, and short and long-lined haiku.”
I don’t know about you, but I always have my trusty Webster’s Unabridged at the ready when I’m about to read a new book of poetry, and if I don’t have to open it by the time I’ve read the last poem, I feel cheated, for I have little use for poets who cannot teach me a new word or two. David Giannini is a wonderful teacher. This is a partial list of the words he taught me: Tardis [sic] (acronym for Time and Relative Dimension in Space), withes (branches of an osier used for tying), gnomon (part of a sundial that casts a shadow), dittany (a bushy shrub), skift (something that is light), sposhy (slushy, dirty, and wet), rivulose (having irregular lines), garth (small yard or enclosure), tohubohu (a state of chaos; utter confusion), and my favorite, mondegreen (a mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase in a way that gives it a new meaning.) Only Galway Kinnell taught me more. Of course, there is more to poetry than an instructive and impressive vocabulary. Like Kinnell, Giannini doesn’t pepper his poetry with a virtuosic vocabulary to show off. Yes, like me, you might have to consult that Webster’s, but after you’ve done so, and after you’ve gone back and read that poem again, you will, like me, come away with a deeper appreciation for the skill that went into the making of the poem, and of course, with a greater appreciation for the richness of the poem itself.
So let me share this richness by quoting some of it. Here is “Song of the Sleepers”:
Moonlight never slaps
us, but lifts
a finger while we dream,
to mouth and ear,
we wake to ancient song
waves ashore, wish
our lips spoke light,
only cosmic mondegreen
even as more fingers lean
light, touch each other,
the moonlight a chef’s kiss
that we are excellent in being lit.
“the moonlight a chef’s kiss/ that we are excellent in being lit.” I hope you don’t mind. I had to do that. And I have to ask: Have we ever known that moonlight is a chef’s kiss? And have we ever known that sleeping lovers are excellent in being lit? Now we know, and we have David Giannini to thank. And please read the poem out loud, for it is a song.
And finally, here is “An Old Christian Monk Speaks While Walking with a Novitiate”:
And there are mornings His wound is spread
by sunlight its gash on the floor…
Best forget Buddha he’s just too far
beyond the lanterns of our faith…
But even so perching on that crucified scarecrow
crows keep laughing.
What delicious ambiguity! Spoken like a good old Buddhist monk!
William Carlos Williams once said that “if it ain’t a pleasure, it ain’t a poem.” I say if it ain’t a poem by David Giannini, it ain’t the genuine pleasure it ought to be. Do treat yourself to the pleasure of its pages.
About the reviewer: Professor Emeritus of English at SUNY Orange, J.R. Solonche has published poetry in more than 500 magazines, journals, and anthologies since the early 70s. He is the author of many books, most recently, The Book of a Small Fisherman (Shanti Arts Publishing), The Dreams of the Gods (Kelsay Books), Alone (David Robert Books), and coauthor with his wife Joan I. Siegel of Peach Girl: Poems for a Chinese Daughter (Grayson Books).