Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition)
Codrescu’s “telyric self” is at odds with the narrator’s inner being. Like a puppet, he is manipulated and maneuvered into the best physical position for his performance. The narrator’s relationship with his production crew is thus purely utilitarian and mechanical, as no one asks about the content of his presentation. The old man’s question, “He somebody famous?” sums up the situation: The telyric self is famous; however, the inner self is unconnected to sense but rather connected to a situation rich in a feeling of fraudulence and replete with chaotic images, from Skoog’s history as a plastic surgeon to baseball player Martinez to the passing “geezer” to the production crew.
The multiple nationalities represented in the short poem suggest both the confusion of many unconnected cultures and their being brought together by television. The Romanian Codrescu, Nicaraguan Martinez, the British cameraman, the Scandinavian Skoog, Patagonia (Argentina), and Maroc (Morocco). The connection between the fountain and the Immigration and Naturalization Service seems appropriate given this multicultural cast.
Whether “Telyric” reveals Codrescu’s heartfelt feelings or is merely another witty performance—a poetic performance commenting on a television performance by a media-wise commentator—is immaterial. From the reader’s perspective, the poem’s value lies in its evocation of the awkward, uncomfortable feeling of being in the spotlight. The real self becomes a bogus one when an unnatural role is required; random thoughts and observations, “real” though they may be, are unacceptable when acting as conventional commentators must in their television personas. Codrescu himself refers to the “weirdness” of television and his beginner’s wonder at it. The poem thus raises the theme of honesty in the roles people play and emphasizes the disjunction between immediate sensations and the consistency that is expected in social situations.