Paul Hostovsky, Naming Names

EJ Miley, Jr.

Naming Names by Paul Hostovsky
Main Street Rag, 2014

Reviewed by Kathleen Kirk, EIL Poetry Editor

We’re coming up on Thanksgiving, and I’m giving thanks for Naming Names, by Paul Hostovsky. It makes me laugh, and it makes me feel sorry for the Presidents, namely the ones in “Feeling Sorry for the Presidents”—Nixon and George W—for whom I did not vote but can, nonetheless, feel compassion. The poem ends with a Hostovskian “move,” as they say about choices in poetry (or chess), here, a sudden awareness of the big picture after a series of particulars. It’s George W on the TV screen:

                             …I can’t help feeling
          sorry for the guy. I mean everybody’s mad at him
          for the big mess he made, and there he stands
          in the middle of that mess, with all the bodies
          piling up—all the arms and legs and heads—
          and he has to say something, but he can’t
          say what he has to say. He can’t say it.

There are a lot of dogs in this book, and it’s dedicated To the dog of myself / walking the dog of the dog / through the dog of the world. Compassion and humor there, too. There is free association and the love of language, of particular words. Thanks to the poem, “C. Bowen, Plumber,” I looked up the word “meticulous,” which really does, as the poem clearly states, come from the Latin for “fear.” But you’ve got to love a meticulous plumber, and the poem made me want to hire this one.

Naming Names does just that, naming teachers and classmates, famous writers, past lovers, friends, best friends, that plumber, those presidents, musicians, states of mind and heart. It names The Beatles in the epigraph to “The Road,” that line from the wonderful song, “Why don’t we d-do it in the road?” that I used to sing over the vacuum cleaner, doing my household chores on Saturdays as a child…. It’s a good question, and the poem begins to answer it—“I’m t-trembling”—with Hostovskian hilarity and humility. I keep saying “Hostovskian” because there is even a poem that names the poet, “Hostovsky.”  It ends the first section, Fallen Kings, with a claim of singularity:

          There are many species in a phylum.
          There are many Pauls in a phone book.
          But there was always only one
          Hostovsky in the class,
          and only one Paul Hostovsky
          in the whole kingdom.

It’s a supreme moment and a sweet and lonely one, too, coming from “an only child with many / imaginary friends to [his] name.”

The poem “Interpreting the Allman Brothers” reminded me that Paul Hostovsky holds both of my ideal jobs: Poet and Interpreter for the Deaf. I love how these lines tangle the tongue and eye as well as the fingers: “I juggled, fingerspelled, finagled / all of the lyrics for close to an hour.” More than one poem takes place in a bathroom, but not “Bathroom Talk,” not exactly. More than one poem made me laugh out loud, or grin big. And, as I’ve said, more than one poem is in love with language, even as some among us bemoan the state of language today. “Let us not decry / the decline of language, / dude.” That’s the beginning of “I Say,” which continues to simultaneous heights and depths of praise:

         So I say, let us praise
         on our geographic

         this living gumbo,
         this fine and thick
         delicious and nutritious

        whence all the beautiful
        and endangered species
        spring, sprang,


Indeed. And let us all praise the singular Paul Hostovsky.

Paul Hostovsky at EIL
(Where you can find “Merton” from Naming Names)

Paul Hostovsky in The Dog Star at EIL
(Scroll down for his poem, “Link,” from Naming Names)

Paul Hostovsky’s Website

Naming Names at Main Street Rag

More dog art by EJ Miley, Jr.

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