Assistant Editor Caitlin Doyle: In “Gifts for the Adventurous Man,” Martha Silano borrows an advertising slogan from Ibex clothing as a framing device for a sonically driven exploration of the relationship between language and power. Though rooted in our current moment, punctuated with characterizations of a certain political figure Silano clearly wants us to recognize, the poem also possesses an allegorical quality that seems to resist temporal specificity. We’re invited to imagine that the unnamed person Silano describes (“blatherskite,” “foolhardy fop,” “groping gent,” “ham-faced hothead,” “madcap tambouriner,” “spin doctor,” etc) might in fact be any power-corrupted individual—historical, contemporary, or fictional—who “cannot see his own cue” in the figurative pool game that is global politics.
Silano combines colloquial American speech, terms beyond the tonal registers of everyday conversation, and words from other languages (most pointedly, the names of foreign currencies), all linked together by aural echoes that spring from an electrical current of over-the-top alliteration and assonance. The amped-up artifice of the poem’s sonic atmosphere gestures toward forms of language that we associate with silliness, pleasure, and play: nonsense verse, tongue twisters, word games, and children’s songs. Through this effect, Silano emphasizes language’s dangerous ability to beguile us so much that we might not fully notice the darkness running under the surface of what’s being said. She also draws a direct parallel between the catchy and often highly alliterative language employed in advertising campaigns and the way that politicians use words to sell themselves and their ideas to the public.
Though Silano takes a clear political stance in the poem and uses certain au courant markers to indicate the figure’s identity (“Mar-a-Lago” and “Moscow watchdog,” for example), she simultaneously prompts us to project ourselves into the experience of readers far in the future who won’t likely be able to orient themselves with such ephemeral markers. When they read the poem, whose face will they picture on the body of the “sandpiper who praises his own swamp”? The specifics of any given cultural moment may change, but no matter when you live or where you land on the political spectrum, Silano ultimately suggests, there will always be people in positions of power who strike you as “loose-lipped” liars “lacking legs.”
To hear Martha Silano read her piece, click below:
“Gifts for the Adventurous Man”
(Ibex clothing ad)
Alms for the orange-haired ape. Bulgogi for the blatherskite. Krona for the earless croc, the cock-a-doodle-doo. Donations for the duffer who downed the guk before the bibimbap. Endowments for the unendowed. Favors for the servants’ creaking forelocks as the masters fight. Options for the foolhardy fop. Grants for the groping gent. Haute couture hand-me-downs for the thief who will not hang, for the ham-faced hothead. Largess for the jeopardous joker. Kwacha for the cowardly hyena, its teeth among friends. Lagniappe for the loose-lipped, for the liar lacking legs. Legacies for the ineffable bottom of the lamp. Remittances for the madcap tambouriner of Mar-a-Lago, for the elderberry in the recliner, the Moscow watchdog. Pounds for the duffer impeded by his balls, for the pig who finds his mud beneath nonindigenous palms. Pearls for the person who perceives his predecessor’s pool hall, cannot see his own cue. Rose quartz for the torturer. Solyanka for the spin doctor who stole way more than fifty kopeck, for the sandpiper who praises his own swamp. Tugrik for the thug who stole the other thug’s club. Tributes for the lies that butter no turnips. Electoral votes for the viper in the visor. Wons for the wing nut off-the-cuff. XE Currency Converters spitting dinars for the xenophobe in the caddie. Yuan for the vermin who gnaws the yak’s tail. Zolotniks for the 3 a.m. zingers tweeted from his glitzy ziggurat.
Martha Silano is the author of four full-length poetry collections, including Reckless Lovely (Saturnalia Books, 2014) and The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception (Saturnalia Books, 2011). She coedited, with Kelli Russell Agodon, The Daily Poet: Day-By-Day Prompts For Your Writing Practice (Two Sylvia’s Press, 2013). Gravity Assist will appear from Saturnalia Books in 2019.
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