Friday, July 1, 2011

The Poetry of the Jersey Shore

So, take a moment and check out this 19th-century Nicole "Snooki" Polizzi who—down even to the brash and colloquial nature of her poetry—was apparently making the local culture of the Jersey Shore something to behold more than a century ago. Given the careful position and flirtatiously phallic droop of the parasol in the photo, our interns here at the P&PC office have suggested that the saucy poem on the reverse may have been written for Michael "The Situation" Sorrentino himself:

When soon at home
Your thoughts will roam
Awhile to Jersey Shore
When then you see
This phiz of me
You'll think: "O, never more"
"That bad old maid"
"Whom I so hate"
"On me her scoldings pour."

If you know anything about Snooki and her MTV cast mates, it's that they're a group of, um, creative wordsmiths who are constantly doing their own type of shuffle and breakdown with the English language. ("A crow comes in and starts quacking at us," Snooki once quipped.) The same goes for their 19th century predecessor (named Laura Hays, if we make out the handwriting correctly) whose poem reminds us of the great word phiz—meaning a facial expression or countenance and dating back, the OED tells us, to 1687 when Henry Higden wrote in his Modern Essay on the Tenth Satyr of Juvenal, "Oh had you then his Figure seen, / With what a rueful Phis and mein...."

A rueful phis and mein? We like it, and we think Snooki (pictured here) might appreciate it too, but we like William Schwenck Gilbert's use of phiz in "Only a Dancing Girl" even more. In the slightly less-than-romantic verse from the 1860s, Gilbert describes his "unpoetical" title character as a "tawdry, tinselled thing" with "ungrammatical lips" and—you guessed it—a "painted, tainted phiz." A painted, tainted phiz? Like, so off the hook, right? That said, the older and measurably more fusty contingent at P&PC likes Helen Keller's 1903 use of the word best of all. In Story of My Life, Keller describes one of her favorite bull terriers as having "a long pedigree, a crooked tail and the drollest 'phiz' in dogdom." The drollest phiz in dogdom? In a Jersey Shore world where crows come in and start quacking, why the heck not?