Poet Of The Week

Nada Gordon

     February 16–22, 2015

Nada Gordon was born in Oakland in 1964 and has lived in Bolinas, San Francisco, Tokyo and Brooklyn. Her seven books of poetry include Vile Lilt, Scented Rushes, Folly and V. Imp. A founding member of the Flarf Collective, she has performed widely in the USA and abroad. Her poems have been translated into Japanese, Icelandic, Hebrew and Burmese. She teaches English as a Second Language at Pratt Institute.

Poem to My Enemies

It’s a funky brown day on the grand karoo,
bitter and disputed, determined by a priori categories
of the mind whose nut or kernel conceals the innermost part
or central fort of a medieval castle. Literally, I am going down
in your esteem by chopping blows delivered
with the side of an open hand, like an assembly
of ridgelike parts that scolds
as harshly as a lock nut or disputed clasp.

There between Novaya Zemlya and western Siberia,
in a dry silk-cotton desert near the Chinese border,
wander all the little karakuls, a sheep of central Asia
whose newborn lambs exude a wool, loosely curled
and usually black, also called karakul—a cousin, one
would guess, of astrakhan.

Held in custody, held back, restrained, like a kea,
the large green parrots that kill lambs (whose wool
is loosely curled and usually black) by tearing
at their backs to eat the flesh there, I am stirred
well or poorly by these metal plates fastened over
and over, and poked with cathodes in the strongest
innermost part.

Endurance, as of a headache. Your continued disdain
affects every part, penetrating as water
through blotting paper, grayish blue and Persian,
like liver extracts. Evil, criminal, white, cup-shaped, the
persistence of vision causes visual impressions to continue
upon the retina for some time, as pain and offense are
a kind of perpetual hybrid rose whose fruit is sour
and astringent when green.

You would have me be characterized by vertical lines in tracery,
or as some device used to mark a vertical line from any point,
afflicted or harassed constantly so as to injure or distress, as in
persecuted by mosquitoes returning from a ruined city
in southern Iran.

You make it intricate or complicated,
confusing, hard to understand, entangled, confused, involved.
PLEXUS: to twist or plait … for an unlimited time or legally
specified period, enduring forever, eternal, permanent,
unceasing, or for any rate blooming continuously
throughout the persecution season for Persian lambs.

Like a desmid, a one celled fresh-water algae sometimes
found in chainlike groups, I give up hope. Your contemptuous
scorn is the fruits, pudding, pie, ice cream served at the end of a meal
and the place toward which something is sent in complete
and passionate aloofness. It foams and cleans like soap
and, depreciates the desolate, uninhabited desert,
lonely in grief and misery of microscopic despumate,
thrown off as froth, insult, injury,
malice, spite.

And I, a mole-like, insect-eating aquatic mammal
of Russia and the Pyrenees, with webbed feet and a long, flexible
snout like a ligament of fibrous texture (as in certain tumors),
do lay waste, and, recklessly wretched, wander in defiant air.

–Originally published in The Brooklyn Rail, September 2008.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I used to work with someone who I believe despised me. She was in the office next door and sometimes I imagined I could feel negative energy kind of seeping through the wall. That’s why the poem is titled “Poem to my Enemies.” I’m not sure whether this person really was, strictly speaking, an enemy, but the embellished aggrievedness and defensiveness of the poem could expand to include those who actually are.

It’s composed as a series of appositives I found by leafing through a dictionary and appropriating bits of definitions. By piling them up, I found I could achieve a satisfying kind of nestedness.

What are you working on right now?

I’m teaching myself the craft of needle felting. So far I have made sculptures of my two cats, a Japanese doll, a sparrow, a cardinal and a moss-covered Japanese fox statue (kitsune). Sometimes I need to do things that are more 3D and haptic than writing. I’ve also recently gathered together poems for a new manuscript that is tentatively titled Sturm (as in Drang).

What’s a good day for you?

This feels like a rather cruel question to ask a group of people who likely have some sort of mood disorder … but I suppose for me a good day includes some sort of creation, discovery and exchange, as well as flowers, kittens, chocolate and complete overturning of the social order.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in? What do you like most about it?

I’ve lived in Brooklyn since 1999. For the first two years, I lived in Park Slope. For all of its comforts, Park Slope is not for me. For one thing, the “ethnic” restaurants, with a few exceptions, are awful; it’s as if they are back in the kitchen thinking, how can we pull the wool over the eyes of these mostly affluent, mostly white people and convince them to think this food is edible? Since 2001 I have lived in Kensington. It’s better. I live two blocks from Prospect Park and near the Kensington stables. On pleasant days, I see horse aficionados currying their dappled ponies. In summer, the neighborhood is verdant. Old gentlemen from Eastern Europe?–or the -stans?–play chess on the built-in tables on Ocean Parkway. The Halloween decor is extreme and in winter there are the kitschest of crèches. There’s a CSA. Ocean Parkway is called Ocean Parkway because of the sound it makes outside my window. Kensington isn’t terribly interesting, but I don’t mind, my place is mine, and I’ve made a little sort of seraglio-space out of it. My apartment doorway is a portal to another reality altogether. Everything is burgundy and coral and minutely decorated.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

I don’t know if this is a “defining” experience, but I took a patternmaking class at a little fashion design/sewing school located in between my neighborhood and Flatbush. All of the other students were originally from the West Indies, and the teacher was from Africa. It was great fun being in a room learning and concentrating with them and it made me feel grateful to live here. I’d just come back from a trip to Japan, where I used to live and where I go often, and I was having a terrible time readjusting to things like gum spots and peeling paint, but these ladies helped ease the transition.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

Oh, um … Henny Youngman? I’ve never been all that into Whitman, although I appreciate “Whitmanicity.” I began a project once of replacing most of the nouns in “Song of Myself.” I called it Song of My OWNself and part of it was published as a Belladonna chapbook. I abandoned the project, though, when it got tiresome.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

You know, there aren’t that many bookstores left, so I’m just going to say the same places as the other poets do: Unnameable Books and Berl’s Poetry Bookshop. I also like Spoonbill and Sugartown a lot. I sometimes find interesting books on the street or in the basement.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I love writing on the subway in the morning. The subway is a hotbed not just of germs but of creativity, too. Perhaps most of my poetry writing gets done there. I work at Pratt, in Brooklyn, so I take the G and always get a seat.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

The fabric stores in Little Lahore on Coney Island Avenue. A certain Vietnamese noodle joint in Brooklyn Chinatown. Strolling Borough Park to photograph the old peeling signage. That crazy Italian bakery on 18th Avenue with the realistiic-looking marzipan fruit. When I REALLY want to have fun, or eat well, though, I go to Queens.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

Mina Loy’s trippy novel Insel.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate membranes.
And what I aggravate you should aggravate,
For every acidic slime baby in me is as good as every
     bituminous rose biting tether in

If you have time, write a nine-line poem using these end-words (in whatever order) from Jay Z’s “Brooklyn Go Hard”: father, Dodger, jack, rob, sin, pen, love, Brooklyn, Biggie.

If necessity’s the mother of invention, what’s the father?
Mine own was a kind of artful dodger,
and as a girl, I liked Monterey Jack.
My mother wanted just to feed me carob
but I preferred chocolate, a proverbial sin.
I’m typing this; I’d rather use a pen,
but we can’t always have what we love,
now can we? The geese are plump in Brooklyn.
You can stop reading now: no biggie.

Why Brooklyn?

I never hankered after Brooklyn. I despise winter here; it’s torture. “Grittiness” isn’t really my cup of tea; I prefer cultures that are devoted to beauty and charm. I’d really rather live in Tokyo, or Paris, or Bali, or even, I guess, the Bay Area, where I’m from. The circumstances of my coming here I’d rather not recount. But now I’m here, and I stay because of various anchors in animal and human form, so I endeavor to enjoy it, because, like, whaddamigonnado?