"Christian Name is a brilliant and darkly pensive accident" — Robert Fitterman
Christian Name is the first full-length book of poems by Lawrence Giffin. It culls poems begun in 2005, when the poet Eric Baus introduced Giffin to linguistic studies on the “feral-child” Susan Wiley, better known by her medical pseudonym “Genie.” Wiley was kept in isolation by her family until the age of thirteen, when she was discovered by a welfare worker in Temple City, CA. She quickly came to be seen as a new subject in a long line of “forbidden experiments,” with other experiments in language deprivation going back to the Egyptian pharaoh Psamtik I. Young psycholinguists hurried to test Wiley to see whether she would prove or disprove the critical period hypothesis, a hypothesis in linguistics that language acquisition is possible only within the first few years of brain development, a theory that Wiley seemed poised to prove, but not before her mother reasserted her parental rights and the experiment ended.
There is nothing more terrifying than the thought of being unable to name or even to recognize one’s terror. And yet, as Jacques Lacan wrote in a 1948 lecture, “A child who does not yet speak reacts differently to punishment than to brutality.” Instead of attempting to give voice to the mute child, the poems in Christian Name seek to expand her silence to all aspects of private and public life. Through tortuous grammatical constructions, one-liners, perverted non-sequiturs, and appropriated language, Christian Name affirms not so much that language is at bottom mute material but that it’s provisional, that speaking and writing are integral to the ongoing production of social contracts.Excerpt ˇ
Your poor copy bears
a Satanic heading;
its body, a sieve
that holds back the final word
on what will have
form of address.
A minimum of speech,
whatever, abutting horror,
perfection of everydayness.
Nother remains but i.e.,Close ˆ
- 08.27.14 | Lawrence Giffin's Christian Name reviewed by Steven Zultanski for Jacket2
- 04.15.14 | Lawrence Giffin's Christian Name reviewed by Rain Taxi
- 09.26.13 | Lawrence Giffin featured in Poetry Society of America's In Their Own Words
News and Reviews
Disturbing and bitter ... at times bizarre, Lawrence Giffin’s collection of sequences and stand-alone poems can look like “theory,” or like collage, but it’s far more: Giffin uses his own dry articulations along with his sources (stories about feral children, the story of Jesus, “theory,” the Grateful Dead) to ask the largest possible questions about how we know what we know, whether we know anything, whether we are just patterns etched into the hard grooves of family life, and why—if we are only patterns, nothing but useless codes—we can feel so alone.—Steven Burt, Rain Taxi
Lawrence Giffin’s Christian Name isn’t very funny. Not unlike a Lars Von Trier film, Christian Name shines its backwoods’ flashlight on big questions: knowledge, religion, institutionalization, child-rearing, the recklessness of being . . . and none of it is very funny. Christian Name’s central character is Genie—the pseudonym for a feral child who spent nearly all of her first thirteen years of life locked inside a bedroom strapped to a potty chair. But unlike the teams of specialists and do-gooders who want to right Genie, Christian Name furthers her darkness by fusing these private and public spheres, and it isn’t very funny. Even the 'The Unfinished/System of Nonknowledge, Revised /Edition, trans. by YouTube.com/ into a crappy lo-res version/of DOS capital T truth and desk/copy "Justice" for run program' isn’t very funny here. Neither is: 'My other god’s an atheist, a.k.a. Cloaca Maxima,/whose back is turned to us. We believe in it/as long as it remains in the dark, and that/is our great excuse for not knowing any better.' Christian Name is a brilliant and darkly pensive accident, as we all are . . . and it isn’t very funny.—Robert Fitterman