New Depths of Deadpan

by Michael Gizzi
Burning Deck Press 2009
Reviewed by Craig Santos Perez


“Some days he wants to cry, but antidepressants won’t let him.”

Gizzi Cover

The title of Michael Gizzi’s newest collection, New Depths of Deadpan, captures the main tone of these poems. A perfect example is the title poem itself, which begins: “Mane thickness is a response to climate control. / Your therapist, an empiricist, sends you a horseshoe magnet. /A friend of the family offers his duck blind. // Description ends at death.” Throughout the book, there are similar instances of deadpan humor, deadpan lyricism, deadpan profundity.

Most of the poems are composed in prose-like, sentence-driven stanzas or single-sentence stanzas. Without much enjambment, the poems sound and feel quite deadpan. The entirety of “Attention Deficit Flypaper”:

The Italian matriculates with the usher under the chapel.

Masturbation covers a small portion of the audacity of lust.

Like an aphrodisiac in daycare, he cut his eyes on onions.

Some days he wants to cry, but antidepressants won’t let him.

While the title of this particular poem sets up its comedic undertones, the unit of the sentence delivers the deadpan. In fact, some of the most humorous parts of this collection are the titles: “Prima Donna Dashboard,” “The Laser’s Printer’s Dream,” “At Go Figure Farm,” “The Academy of Scissors,” “Cloistered in an Oyster,” “Shark Infested Custard,” “Erection Ahead” and “Posse of Forks.” Whether or not the title is humorous, the poems always end up surprising with their paratactic twists and turns. From “Posse of Forks”:

Looking to lynch the kid who wrote “Captain Underpants,” vigilantes cover the entire territory on their floating theater seats.

Why must these wonderful things be dusted? Because their upper limit is disappointment?

A damsel mounts a mare to save the heart of her cowboy. Damsel riding, rides up blushing, hands over moneybag with confession (Augustine’s), removes the noose from her lover’s neck. A placard “Partly Cloudy” looms overheard […].

Many of the poems are strange and dreamlike: a deadpan surrealism. The poem “Oscillations in the Ether” ends: “Imagine hitting moonlight and living to tell. / Dreams speak in images speech once was. / If the eye were a tongue…” .

New Depths of Deadpan is an entertaining collection. The deadpan tone and structure is quite hypnotic, pulling the reader in and surprising us with “new depths.” My favorite line from the book reads: “Then someone opens an eye in my head. Murmur of subtitles.” Throughout this collection, Gizzi opens an unexpected eye to the strange murmurs of subtitles of our everyday, deadpan lives.