Noah Eli Gordon with H.L. Hix

Noah Eli Gordon

This interview by H.L. Hix is one of a series, many of which will be collected in Alter Nation: America in Recent Poetry, Recent Poetry in America, from Ugly Duckling Presse (fall 2012). Hix loves the interview form as a way of thinking together (itself a condition of democracy, justice, philosophy, and other ideals and practices he values), and as one element in a community poetics. The subject of this interview is Noah Eli Gordon’s A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow (New Issues, 2007).

H. L. Hix: The explicit subject of “An exact comprehension of the composer’s intent” (12) is music, of course, but I am inclined also to take “not by voice / but what precedes it” as one formulation of an aesthetic ideal that the poems in your book pursue. Is that too great a liberty to take with the poem?

Noah Eli Gordon: Explicit subject: music; implicit subject: poetry. I like that you say “one formulation” rather than the formulation, as I believe in the total liberation of the poem as well as the poem of total liberation, but not in the liberty of the poet’s relationship to the poem. Poems govern poets through control and restriction; even the poem trumpeting radical liberation is restrictively fascist. It might love you, its reader, but it doesn’t believe in any god other than itself. It doesn’t understand that there is such a thing as the poet, which means, effectively, there isn’t. I don’t really believe this, yet I’m irrelevant: the poem thinks authorial intention is a nonsense phrase. If I weren’t already completely disenfranchised here, I’d nod my head in disagreement. This is all another way of saying: take whatever liberties you like with the poem; it certainly wouldn’t grant me any.

That said, this ideal might be the question: does thinking occur before one is able to find the language with which one might house it? And if so, is this language then continually playing catch-up and merely a poor substitute or false approximation of thought? And is the poem what arises from the lag time between thought and its articulation? Or is the poem a constructivist attempt to simulate this space? These questions seem to hover over this particular book for me, which I think of as an homage not to the instrument or the amplifier but to the cord connecting the two.

HH: The short phrase “refusal of silhouettes” (40) stays with me. What are the implications of refusing silhouettes?

NEG: Plato’s Cave meets Wittgenstein’s Case: Positive Capability; thus, implication itself, although inadequate, is often all there is. Poetry is to ______ as Play-Doh is to ______. (Note: any words work here). Late at night, the voyeur watches a figure in the window across the way. In the previous sentence, we’re implicated as well. One has to fill in the rest. Poetry gives us only ever part of the story. When Hitchcock’s shadow turns to fit into a spare, line drawing of his face, replication meets implication, and we’re relieved; there’s some sort of illumination. The silhouette is more complex, the detritus of modernism par excellence. Electricity unfettered us, but it also brought about the burden of agency. Midnight is irrelevant to the poem written at midnight.

According to Wikipedia, The Real Thing is a play by Tom Stoppard, a short story by Henry James, a UK pop group, a Norwegian jazz quartet, a French language Canadian television show, a 1980 collection of humorous essays by Kurt Andersen, an episode of the British television series Lovejoy, a 1971 blues album by Taj Mahal, an album and song by Faith No More, a compilation album by Midnight Oil, the debut album of Bo Bice, an album by Jill Scott, an anthology video album by Marvin Gaye, the debut album of The Higgins, the 2009 album from Vanessa Williams, the fifth album by Contemporary Christian group pureNRG, a song by Russell Morris, 2 Unlimited, Tony Di Bart, Gwen Stefani, Kenny Loggins, ABC, Kingston Wall, Lisa Stansfield, Jellybean, Alice In Chains, Angela Winbush, Pearl Jam and Cypress Hill and may also be a slogan used by The Coca-Cola Company. I accept.

HH: Your lines “an element / of discourse // arranging a house / into a house whose / arrangement is elemental” (68) recalls for me Tractatus 1.1: “The world is the totality of facts, not of things.” Is this poem (this book? poetry, for you?) an assertion (whatever else it is also doing) that the world is the totality of arrangements, not of elements?

NEG: Why not a God forever oscillating between Word and Deed? Is there such a thing as a boulder-less Sisyphus? I admire Hölderlin’s fragments because they give us a window into the inchoate poetic impulse, one freed from the constraints the conventions of the day might have saddled him with. Richard Sieburth, in the introduction to his translation of the Hymns and Fragments, explains that he’d based his translations on the complex “reading texts” proposed by D.E. Sattler, texts which include multiple variants in different typefaces. “By presenting Hölderlin’s texts as events rather than objects,” writes Sieburth, “as processes rather than products, it converts the reader from passive consumer into active participant in the genesis of the poem, while at the same time calling attention to the fundamentally historical character of both reader’s and writer’s activity.”

I bring this up because the lines you quote are missing (here’s much of that “whatever else [this poem] is also doing”) an important antecedent: “& the ghostlike/ stone face of Hölderlin/ disappearing//into an iron sky/ into an element/ of discourse// arranging a house/ into a house whose/ arrangement is elemental.” I’m not all that sure I’d advocate an “either/or” here; instead, I prefer a “both/then”—a constant becoming. Just as a fact might become a thing if its ubiquity is solidified into a foundation for further building, so an arrangement becomes an element once its origins are so remote and muddied as to seem nonexistent. The river is the same; the step is different. I like a poetry that espouses the space between seem and seam.


Noah Eli Gordon lives in Denver, CO. For more information, please visit:

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