Nada Gordon’s Interests: Reviewed by Michael Leong

E-chapbook by Nada Gordon
Scantily Clad Press, 2009
46 pages

Reviewed by Michael Leong

“In modern times, the poetic list-form has a tendency to be hidden. But we can flush it out without too much trouble, if we wish. Consider, in the diaries of poets, that the erudites lovingly publish for our pleasure and our instruction shopping lists; consider their beautiful and inspired laundry lists”

—Jacques Roubaud

I love lists—the frisson of accumulation, the pulsing simplicity of parataxis. I love to browse them, to follow them as they effusively unfurl, and then to slow down and savor a particularly delicious linguistic cluster. I like how the list poem or catalog poem is so demotic, so basic (I just did a Google search for “catalog poem” and the first listed page was “Catalog Poem: Teaching Kids to Write”) but, in the hands of a master, the list poem can certainly bristle with surprise and mystery.

I agree with Roubaud that the poetic list-form is the ur-poetic form and some of my favorite poetic lists can be found in the following texts: Jorge Luis Borges’ “El idioma analítico de John Wilkins,” François Rabelais’ “Anatomy of Fastilent as regards the outward parts,” Andre Breton’s “Freedom of Love” (which is also, coincidentally, one of my favorite love poems), John Yau’s “I Was A Poet In The House of Frankenstein” (also one of my favorite movie poems), Homer’s “Catalogue of Ships” (for purely historical reasons), the “Food” section of Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, John Ashbery’s The Vermont Notebook, Christopher Smart’s “For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry” (especially the line, “For he can spraggle upon waggle at the word of command”), the obligatory Whitman passage that begins, “The pure contralto sings in the organ loft,” a Christopher Dewdney poem whose title I’m now forgetting (it’s in the New Long Poem Anthology), Harryette Mullen’s Trimmings, Raymond Queneau’s Elementary Morality, and the bit from Rimbaud’s “Second Delirium: Alchemy of the Word” that ends, “erotic books with bad spelling, novels our grandmothers used to read, fairy-tales, little books for children, old operas, meaningless refrains, crude rhythms.” Now I can add to this unending and idiosyncratic list Nada Gordon’s latest chapbook Interests, which Gordon (who is perhaps best known for being a member of the Flarf Collective) terms a work of “insta-poetry.”

On her blog ~~ululations~~, Gordon provides some more useful comments about the text’s composition:

Here’s how I wrote the book, actually: Have you ever noticed that if you list your interests on your blogger profile, your interests become links? If you click on the links, you can find other bloggers who have listed the same interests on their profiles. The first page of my chapbook is my list of interests. Every other page is a purloined list from someone who was automatically linked to me. I did choose from the lists, selecting those that were most prosodic and quirky, and I did edit the lists internally a tiny bit.

As one would expect, this collaged and “collaborative” text is an easy and funny read. I would even say that reading this chapbook was “relaxing” in the way Tan Lin intends Blipsoak01 (2003) to be relaxing—not unlike flipping on the E! network for a few moments after a particularly filling supper.

In the spirit of remixability, here’s my own list of what I thought were some of the most “interesting” items in Interests:

rufflers, Extra virgin olive oil, being angry, zelda, super powerful female vocalists who are actually men, talking about where to go when the zombies come, asian friends, bling, nice clouds, medieval music, profanity etymology, stride piano, vintage Tupperware, young hairy men, yuyos, The fact that you can’t suck your elbow, gross animation, writing, “writing,” Dog Vomit Slime Mold, cooking for Jen.

Reading this book, I felt that certain blushing sense of pathos I get whenever I see someone else’s interests on public display (like hearing someone’s earphones blasting Ace of Base on a rush hour subway or seeing a woman on the train lost in a paperback called Naked Love.) After all, one’s interests form so much a part of one’s subjectivity and are thus intimate. In this sense, Interests is a quite intimate book despite its clinical cut-and-paste procedure. It also reminded me how performative one’s interests can be—like when you see some grave personage on the subway aggressively brandishing a book of high theory.

But, above all, Interests is a fascinating document of the virtual socialities that the Internet enables, a poetic tribute to our digital culture of blogrolls and Listmania. Apart from its humorous surface, I particularly admire the simplicity and elegance of its conceptual impetus. I’d certainly put it on my list of best chapbooks of 2009.


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