Sunday, December 18, 2011



(Pavement Saw Press, Ohio, 2008)

Surrealist language struck me as the richest, thickest vein of poetry to poke years ago. Its flexibility sidesteps the problems of sentimentalism and repetitive subject matter while it also tries to capture a deeply felt experience that is completely individual in a language that is undecipherable and idiosyncratic. Surrealist poetry is quite literally senseless... or meaningless. The attempts to ascribe philosophical depth beyond what the reader brings to such poetry is nothing more than a belief in the magical power of language common to literature departments and students of cultural studies. That is, surrealism mirrors the bankrupt theological methods of the humanities. But the fractured, senseless idiosyncrasy of surrealism makes it The Vehicle by which to explore the intersection of postmodernism and the very ordinary experience of value in the day to day of life. The surrealist gives life.

Noah Eli Gordon is a master of using surrealist language both to explore the psychological feeling of postmodernist theory as well as to expose the contradictory set of values that finds that feeling valuable... even as it is also recognized that the theory driving the feeling is about nothing at all, senseless, worthless. Gordon's Acoustic Experience wraps me in the music of its language, the novel uses of recurring phrases, and the color schemes that suggest meaning or depth like a qabalist's table of arbitrary correspondences.
Would you rather have a goddess of terror to whom goats are sacrificed or the implications of Eve signifying human sensitivity entrenched in the post-European psyche for another millennium?
       (from "Eight Experiments in Artifice")

Maybe it is my love of Aleister Crowley whispering to me, but there is something there in that electric artifice of language.

Watch, for instance, how the book's first poem opens: "What begins as an accrual of weak electric impulses/ ends as scales practiced on the library steps." Gordon's world of Acoustic Experience unfolds as our own world unfolds, from particles and impulses up to the level of art and meaning. The scale of the universe increases until scales become music. These sorts of linguistic equivocations, poetic category mistakes, drive Gordon's poetry, revealing something, a picture of the world, I suppose, to steal a Wittgensteinian convention, that shows us how to use those mistakes appropriately. A mysticism of the ordinary, maybe. By the end, Gordon has wandered through so many pictures of the ordinary made extraordinary while revealing quietly that there is nothing extraordinary except our own music, that we can find the binary abstractions and vague cosmology of the last poem simple and profound, a means of abandoning empty magical (i.e. literary, metaphysical?) theories for the ordinary, a place of rest:

Inoculate with ones & zeros
the sound of the human voice

You have a computer's unrequited compassion
& I, the outline of an ostrich
torn in half, tacked to a pixilated heart

The perfect companion's a photograph of sand

Unexpanding, elegant universe
something something something the end

The scales and bits of sound of the opening poem are the voice and code of the last poem. But along the way, Gordon repeats the pieces of his acoustic experience until the skin-level depth of his experience is clearly grasped. This book is a book of koans.

Gordon's poetry clearly sees the strangeness of that empty contemporary literary theory I mentioned (which is to say, I am not making this stuff up): "Between a prayer for the telescope and a prayer for the microscope, pixels flare into a water-logged anthill, antiquating the 20th Century's representational doubt, or doubting all representations of ownership." The philosophical mode of literary criticism is generally reactionary fear. The successes of empirical and quantitative methods in every field from psychology and language to astronomy and physics has shaken those academics who once created theories of everything out of nothing. Now Gödel's incompleteness theorems tell us that there is no theory that can capture all of the truths of our world to include itself. Our only hope for truth is a difficult and attentive examination of the details of the universe. Literary theorists, though, ignore the discoveries of science in favor of a mere "prayer for the telescope and a prayer for the microscope." They focus only on one bit of the big picture, the bits, pixels, that "flare into a water-logged anthill" and declare there can be no certainty. Every representation is to their unanchored (unhinged?) minds the cause of "the 20th Century's representational doubt."

The surrealist mind of Gordon celebrates all pointless codes and accidental connections. The celebration is the act which makes the language profound:
Perhaps one can love the academic sentence for its ethical contortions, the footnote for its fishhooks pulling up islands from the ocean floor.
       (from "Eight Experiments in Artifice")

The fear of the misguided minds of the literary theorists is meaningful, though not in the manner they would hope. Gordon writes: "I prefer the muddy ghost of one sustained cello note over one hundred thousand science experiments." Maybe Gordon is a Luddite, but I prefer not to read him that way. What I find in his muddy ghost is the resonance of the cello note, the desire for theories that can break free from the limits of reality and the spiritual recognition, if it can be called that, of earth as our only reality. Beyond the gates, there is nothing:
Things don't correspond. They coalesce. A lion crushes a dandelion. A crown crushes abstract autonomy. Dante damns his enemies in every new translation, as all true images are collapsing again into the earth.
       (from "Eight Experiments in Artifice")

The abstract is weak, foolish, in the face of the muddy earth. The earth is the region not just of correspondence, but of the things that coalesce. Earth is where things are together, not in harmony, just are. Gordon's poetry, its strange, half-intelligible ponderings, are truly the enactment of an Acoustic Experience, as every image and theory the poet has touched or taken note of provides him with the material for innumerable connections: "notes are to noise as bees are to a shaft of wheat compressed into the best tasting bread." The connections ultimately are empty, reflecting nothing but an accidental aural or psychological resonance. But that is enough to give Gordon's work the depth of feeling of a person trying to reflect everything: the mechanical, electrical, organic, concrete and the absurd. This book is a qabala of poetry.


Micah Cavaleri lives in Michigan, where he plays with his daughter and runs and sleeps and writes and cooks while his wife explores the mysteries of the natural world. His book the syllable that opened an eye is available from Dead Man Publishing. Poems, etc are scattered about the web, with his most recent work and forthcoming work in Moria, Jacket2, and the always beautiful elimae.

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