Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Gregory DiPrinzio's Canary Sings the Hits


Although it threatens at first to become a sentimental gush, Gregory DiPrinzio's poem"Remember Baby?"is a nice surprise, a poem clear and clever and creating a sweetly constructed vernacular which makes the small intimacies between the narrator (who I assume is male) and the woman real, tactile. It reads like a belated postcard to an ex wife, a recounting of events after strife and turmoil where the wounds have healed and sufficiently scarred the soul and now there is only recourse to maintain a resentment or to laugh at what was said, what was sought. This poem is neither confession nor blame-placing, but rather recollection. There is a crucial difference.

There's a bittersweet quality that's appealing , alluring for the fact that just enough information and characterization is mentioned in the memory; although we ostensibly come in in the middle of a conversation, the situation is coherent, the narrator's monologue affectionate and insinuating all at once:

At first the house was so quiet you could hear the songs
no one was singing and you wanted company,
so you went down to the pet store and bought a canary.
You told the boy you wanted one that sings:
no bird in a silent blue-funk, no washed-up has-been
crying into his water dish.


This is as lovely as it is plain spoken, the description of the house empty of human sound and the solution of going to the pet store for a canary. This is a rush of detail, with all manner of knowing detail and action laid out in an idealized
speech . Remarkable, too, is Gregory DePrinzio's
deft touch with item and incident in the way he has the choice of canary reflect what is the dear woman in this poem fears, "no bird in a silent blue-funk, no washed-up has-been crying into his water dish." This is rather masterful, a salient element of anxiety made tangible without portentous and unwieldy metaphors and cliches that would clumsily botch the description of a more complicated and denser state of internal affairs. This is a confection that is spun and layered with a master's
sense of grace. Cheever couldn't have described a better scene of man/woman awkwardness any better, and Hemingway would have admired the exactitude of the phrasing. A male world, I would suppose, but there is poetry and beauty here none the less. For a change we have a male not moping over the failure of a relationship, but rather giving his account of what he's seen and thought of it. This is not a negoiation for a seduction, but a conversation that has continued after the sparks have gone out and the music has soured. This is a relationship that continues in some form, in grudging maturity.

DePrinzio sticks with the symptoms, the mannerisms, the glaring contradiction of what's avowed and what is actually done, revealed in an atmosphere where
a friend, a confident, lays out a memory. I am attracted to the absence of malice here; a fondness undistorted by lust or obsession emerges as the narrator goes further with the tale, citing the bird's name as Leo and how wearisome his songs became. More beautifully arranged details:

...Often
you dropped the purple cloth over his cage,
closing the curtain in the middle of his set,
but still he couldn't take a hint...



or

The cage
kept getting closer to the window, the sliding
doors kept getting left a little more open
as Leo pounded away at the standards
to an empty room, or competed with the stereo.


The tone is comic , the telling is unvarnished but tempered, and there seems, under the irony and exasperation, a feint hope that the woman, the girl friend, the ex wife might put the pieces together and gain an insight about how to stop making her life miserable. This is guess work, to be sure, since we appear to come into the middle of a conversation that had been going on awhile before we entered the the scene as eavesdroppers, but what is left out makes for the kind of speculation and wondering that gives us a richer experience. There is a shock of recognition here, slight as it might be; there are more than a few readers, I would wager, who had a sudden recollection of small matters with their wives, girl friends, life partners, the things said when the rest of the world was absent, that one carries with them and has little opportunity to reveal. DePrinzio's poem was a key that unlocked one of the doors in my available memory, and I mean that in a good way.

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