Thursday, November 09, 2006

From the Vaults

Jack Kimball with a reading report from Providence (thanks Jack). Also saw Michael Gizzi, who runs the Downcity series with Mike Magee, which made me want to re-post this, from about a year ago when I filled in on Kasey's blog, same week we moved from Noe Valley to Glen Park, which turned out to be the prelude to Portland.


I’m in the middle of a name shift—KONE-uh-key to KER-ne-kuh. Lesley thinks the German pronunciation sounds better and she wants our son to have it. She’s a pro at these things, having swung her own family, Poirier, single-handedly from POOR-ee-er to PWOR-ee-ay.

I remember noticing as a kid how all the famous poets I could think of had these rich English-sounding names--Wordsworth, Byron, Berryman, Dickinson, Lowell, er, Rich. I tried hard to like Roethke for no other reason than that he had an “oe” and “ke” in his name, which I’m still not sure how to pronounce. Same with Koethe. Rhymes with Goethe?

The first real literary concentration of what I guess you’d call ‘ethnic’ names I ever saw was in the Donald Allen New American Poetry anthology, where O’Haras, Duncans, Gleasons, Olsons, Blackburns, Adamses, Williamses and Guests shared pride of place with Levertovs, Eigners, Meltzers, Lamantias, Loewinsohns, Wienerses and Kochs. I wonder for how many people in the ‘60s--and even now--the special promise and threat of that collection began with the Table of Contents.

But the top spot on my list of all-time-favorite poets’ names goes to Michael Gizzi. Like his poetry, it’s fun to just say out loud. I’d like to know how much those double ‘zz’s flanked by the goofy ‘i’s drive his poetic practice, where neologisms and hinky slang and improbable made-up proper names get to buzz like they haven’t since be-bop (Klackoveesedstene!)

Last month I found his Just Like a Real Italian Kid in the SPD archives, which is like finding a sliver from the True Cross in that warehouse at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s an amazing little chapbook that in 20 short pages manages to connect the jazzy, slangy, fun-just-to-say-it wordplay of his other books to the voicings and rhythms of immigrant Italian English:

“Stazzit! Mangare! Horizontal wicks of fennel breath crisscross dinner board to lodge in prepubescent mustachio. Yuk! how can you eat that shit? Perpetual smiles of grief-striken gumbare.”

The snappy rush of these 14 short pieces makes an implicit argument for the pleasures of English as an *almost* second language, a tongue that still feels new enough to stick out and twist at the neighbors. But Gizzi’s also a serious recorder, out to get down the echoes of the “latinate herb breathy ‘come sei bello ragazzo’ litany” before the onset of “primness on Lake Amnesia,” where everything ethnic sinks and goes white:

“Edison it was said had invented the phonograph to capture Caruso for posterity, that catch in the throat when he cried about being so much emotion trapped in the garb of a clown. That essence is Italian pressed into an essence of plastic come to mean maudlin. Those Pavlovian platters were tear-jerkers sure to make a paesan let his hair and everything else down.”



CLAY BANES said...

can i just call you k-dog?

rodney k said...

I've been waiting for someone to call me that for years. At last!

CLAY BANES said...

oder kah hund.

Stanley Bishop Burhans said...

Hmmm. I have an English name, but I'm not sure it's rich-sounding. "Apps"?

I.e. are English names all rich sounding because they're English, or are their other criteria? And if so, what are they?