The Word Kingdom in the Word Kingdom by Noah Eli Gordon

The Way a Poem Functions and What it Seeks to Do

reviewed by Kyle Butler

In Noah Eli Gordon’s latest book, The Word Kingdom in the Word Kingdom, out now from Brooklyn Arts Press, the textures of words are being dissected by Gordon’s poetics. Across five sections, Gordon plays with our expectations and interrogates the constantly changing purpose of language.

In Mary Ruefle’s Madness, Rack, and Honey (Wave, 2012), Ruefle explains that metaphor is not just a mode of comparison
rather a device to carry poetic energy when language fails. In Kingdom, language, and word itself, become metaphor. Gordon is writing poems about poems, and using poems as objects of expression.

For another poem

textured

with the sky

night

stars

and the sun

Against its textual history

Kingdom moves from short, simply stated, enjambed poems that collide down the page, to long wordy chunks of prose, to wide poems spread out densely. Gordon, uses razor-sharp imagery, precisely cut line breaks, and a straightforward commanding diction to carve out space and muse around in the land of theoretical poetics. Gordon’s language is beautiful and sharp, but never overly ornate. Gordon, throughout Kingdom, remains hyper-aware of his own process, portraying poetic devices by utilizing them through example.

a subway car

passes through the room

in which I’m discussing

examples of enjambment

Throughout Kingdom, Gordon’s diverse technical mastery of the line is apparent, but what elevates the work is the brave way he handles an uncharted territory. Kingdom operates in a region where language is used to define the aesthetics that language creates.

In the second section of Kingdom, there is a poem called “Ten Ways to Put Together an Airplane.” Two poems later, a poem called “Ten Ways to Take an Airplane Apart.” Through a myriad of poetic devices and forms, Gordon builds a noun, a metaphor, a poem up, then tears it apart. In this destruction of the “plane,” Gordon disrupts the gravity of poetics through the descriptive language encompassing the object. Narrative in Kingdom is subversive, often hard to find at all. Most of the work is done in the tension of describing verbs as related to the process of poetics. Gordon’s voice in Kingdom reminds me of Gertrude Stein’s voice in Tender Buttons, but instead of object composition, Gordon is dissecting poetics and theory through similar syntax and understanding.

Near the end of the book, Gordon interrogates the physicality of the poem,

This time in a smaller font

I have five kinds of machismo I can climb out of

That didn’t work

I want to say it again

This time in a smaller font

I have five kinds of machismo I can climb out of

There, steady now

These three paragraphs

Then, in the first of the following three paragraphs,

Although the painting is dominated by intersecting lines and shapes in multiple colors, its real subject is the collision of these constituent elements into a system of directives

Gordon here seems to be describing his own work. Kingdom is an abstract book of poems that works in collisions and deconstructions. Kingdom challenges the way language works, and through the technical mastery of poetic devices, it challenges the way a poem functions and what it seeks to do. In Kingdom, poems are theoretical, they are beautifully saturated with crisp-sharp images, and they are used to understand and challenge the way language operates.

-8/31/15