Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 330
In thirty-four lines the narrator of “Telyric” describes being prepared for an outdoor television presentation. A television performer, the narrator is clearly poet Andrei Codrescu himself. Elsewhere, Codrescu has explained that he wrote the poem while working on a documentary about baseball for a Minneapolis television station.
In the poem a “professional TV person” tells the narrator where to stand and shields him from the sun with a “silver shield”—presumably a metallic umbrella, such as is used for reflecting sunlight in outdoor shooting. The “nuclear-trained soundman” wires the narrator to himself and brags about the “top-secret clearance” he once had while “shut four years inside a sewer pipe,” when he indulged a drug habit. An old man stops to ask whether the narrator is famous. He spits in a monumental fountain built by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. The fountain is reputed to have been controversial in an earlier time, when its ornamentation shielded terrorists. The British cameraman shooting the narrator proudly wears a T-shirt immortalizing the life of a Scandinavian plastic surgeon, Tord Skoog, that is worn “from Patagonia to Maroc.”
The narrator feels the self-consciousness of the performer, his media personality on display in the sunshine as if he were a large puppet. He mentions a sports hero also on display, Dennis Martinez, the “new national hero of Nicaragua” (a Baltimore Orioles pitcher whom Codrescu interviewed for the documentary). Public notice and adulation conceal rather than reveal, distorting the narrator’s sense of self. The electronic connections to the media equipment allow the narrator to communicate with the outside world, but they provide no psychological or intellectual understanding, no “sense.” A television person waves to the narrator, signaling him to begin his performance. The narrator walks toward her, overcoming his lack of familiarity in his youth with the conventions of television performance. He puts on his television personality and delivers his first line into the bright light of the sun. His “tinfoil trembles like Skoog’s fjord.”
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 811
The language of “Telyric” synthesizes and blends complex experiences into units of poetic discourse. An example of this technique is the title, which by this process of blending forms a new word as “television lyric” becomes “telyric.” Such formations are known as portmanteau words—words formed by telescoping pairs of existing words, such as “electricity” and “execute” to make “electrocute” or “breakfast” and “lunch” to make “brunch.” However, Codrescu’s title is also humorously oxymoronic in that “television” and “lyric” usually suggest contradictory contexts. “Lyric” connotes music and deep emotions—a far cry from the utilitarian banality of television.
Apart from the poem’s title, the blends in “Telyric” connect the awkward social and psychological feelings involved with being in the camera’s eye with the events of the production itself. The narrator’s observations and memories are linked to the physical setting of the production, as when the fountain in which the geezer spits triggers memories of a long-past (and absurd) contretemps [the fountain] “said years ago/ to have been an object of controversy/ capable of shielding terrorists.”
Codrescu is a master of a comic reductio ad absurdum, carrying the seemingly straightforward if silly—“capable of shielding terrorists”—into the completely ridiculous: “in the goldfish rolls of its Dubuffet clusters.” (Jean Dubuffet was a French artist who designed large sculptures noted for their apparent disorder and spontaneous vigor.) The T-shirt worn by the British cameraman not only promotes a Scandinavian plastic surgeon—an unlikely subject in itself—but follows his life from “humble beginnings/ to an obituary in the Scandinavian/ Journal of Plastic Surgery”—a publication most people may be excused for never suspecting existed. The comedy is capped by the Scandinavian doctor’s notoriety via T-shirt “from Patagonia to Maroc” (which are separated by the Atlantic Ocean).
The synthesizing language merges the narrator’s “telyric self” and “large puppethood,” the metaphor suggesting how awkward, graceless, and controlled the television self feels while under the control of the wires (literally audio cables) of the production crew. The solitary narrator “bends” like a puppet in the glare of the sun, as if on stage in a spotlight. However, the setting is outdoors, perhaps prompting the baseball comparison (“A window of light is in the dugout roof . . .”). The baseball allusion continues when the narrator “throw[s] the first pitch into the sun,” punning on the idea of a television pitchman and on his role of pitching his own television performance, which is itself a documentary about baseball. The narrator’s “tinfoil,” recalling the “silver shield” which the producer used to shield him from the sun in the first lines, “trembles,” suggesting his nervousness. This, in turn, recalls another association, the sunlight shining on the water in the fjords of Scandinavia, a reference to the Scandinavian plastic surgeon, Skoog.
The mind of the poet links experiences and associations, even if they have little in common except surface features. The narrator, here surely identified with Codrescu, who grew up television-deprived in communist Romania, walks toward the producers in the convention of the casually strolling television commentator, across the “narrows/ of the TV-less childhood.” “Narrows” suggests the strait or constricted passage between two different pieces of land or countries, here possibly two different ways of life, the media-less land of Codrescu’s youth and the modern American broadcast culture.
Exaggeration is also used as a comic technique. The sound man is “nuclear-trained,” with “top-secret clearance.” He claims to have spent “four years inside a sewer pipe,” apparently doing military surveillance. His self-promotion is an ironically skewed boastfulness technically proficient persons might be tempted to indulge. In response, the narrator challenges the engineer with an ironic question, “Top-hat clearance?” Playing on “top clearance,” “top-hat” suggests the absurd image of a vaudeville performer, rather than a daring spy. The laconic answer, “our army’s stoned and theirs is drunk,” is a classic cynical exaggeration about the Cold War standoff between Americans and Soviets.
Command forms of verbs accentuate how little control the narrator has over his public self, as he is told to “stand here,” “go on,” and “put on the shield.” The poem also builds on the idea of things seeming to be open while remaining closed. The narrator is “shielded” from the sun; the sound man has spent four years in a sewer pipe; Dennis Martinez is “concealed” in a dugout; the narrator is “bent” and constricted by the “narrows.” Again these references reinforce the two selves in the poem: the apparently open tele-self and the closed reality of each individual. Unexpected echoes and resonances link the disparate imagery. The umbrella-like shield of the opening comes up again in the verb “shields,” referring to protecting terrorists. The narrator “bends” in the sunlight while Skoog “rises.” The British cameraman “shoots” the narrator while the terrorists presumably might try to shoot from the protection of the fountain.
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