Writers are by definition obsessed with words. And when it comes down to it, unless you’re really plucky, there are two or three words you’re stuck with for life: your name. Every other week I’ll ask a different writer five or so questions on the subject.

This week I talked to Paisley Rekdal. Her latest books are Animal Eye (Pitt 2012) and Intimate:  An American Family Photo Album (Tupelo 2012).

 

What was it like growing up Paisley? Were there nicknames or other playground torment involved?

I went to school with some of the stupidest children of the Northwest, so though my name would naturally lend itself to some of the worst nicknames possible (Pasty Rectum, anyone?), the kids I knew thought it was hilarious to call me Parsley. When they got older, they came up with the slightly more brilliant appellation, Plaid.

That said, being a child of the 70’s and 80’s in pre-Yuppie, Stoner Seattle, I was hardly the sole victim of Bad Parental Decision-Making. Some of my classmates were (and I’m not kidding) Blueberry and Rainbow. In some ways, I think I got off lightly.

 

What other options were your folks considering? How did they choose Paisley? Any siblings?

My father likes to remind me that, had I been a boy, I would have been named Rufus. RUFUS REKDAL. Let’s take a moment to consider the ramifications of that, shall we? Perhaps the universe took pity and intervened on our behalf. I am, after all, an only child.

 

Did you find that having your name made it difficult for your parents or teachers to scold or holler at you? (It seems difficult to me to muster the right kind of tone to say with much vigor, “No Paisley!”)

When my mother got really mad, she would yell my name in reverse order, “REKDAL PAISLEY!” weirdly, in a Southern accent like some bad extra playing one of the drill sergeants in Full Metal Jacket.

 

Has having a somewhat uncommon name in any way predisposed you to poetry and/or writing in general?

I sometimes wonder if my name has actually held me BACK a little in my writing career, not just in my own unwillingness to take my work seriously, but in others’ reception of my work. I suspect my first poems took a bit longer to publish because who in his right mind would a) want to read the work of someone who must surely be writing the next great anapestic epic about unicorns or b) feel comfortable advocating for anyone whose name evoked Hendrix-inspired air guitar sessions while stoned on cough syrup? While I greatly admire the writing of poets like John Ashbery or Cole Swenson or my friend Alicia (a.k.a. A.E.) Stallings, in all honesty I most envy the sonorous commanding tones–the dour nobility—of their names. I mean “A.E. Stallings.” That SOUNDS like a real poet, doesn’t it?

I would also like to add that my name has likely also made me instantly sympathetic to the work of other oddly named poets. I feel a rush of tender feeling, for instance, when faced with poems by Cleopatra Mathis, Oni Buchanan or Vona Groarke.

 

I say Brad Paisley, you say ________.

Kill me.

 

Have you ever worn, actually, paisley?

Ha! This is actually a problem for me. There are many, many dresses and scarves I would have bought but for the Paisley Problem. I did, however, break down for one skirt and, recently in Vietnam after all my other clothes literally dissolved from mold, a lovely cotton shift. It’s easier to wear paisley in Asia, however. No one there knows that my name is odd, or what the fabric is called.

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MATTHEW BATT is the author of Sugarhouse, a memoir about renovating a Salt Lake City crack house and his life along with it. It comes out this June with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. His fiction and nonfiction has appeared in Tin House, Mid-American Review, The Huffington Post, and elsewhere. He's the recipient of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, and he teaches English and creative writing at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. And yes, that's his real name.

2 responses to “Hello. My Name Is . . . Paisley Rekdal.”

  1. Gloria says:

    Kids will make up dumb nicknames for anybody’s name, as Louis C.K. so aptly has pointed out. I, being Gloria, have been mostly called G my whole life, though one friend will call me any G word that comes to mind when he sees me (still): greyhound, Gräfenberg, garoziola (I don’t even know what this one means.)

  2. dana says:

    Love the last question! Great idea for a recurring column, Matt.

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