Thursday, August 30, 2007



Folly by Nada Gordon
(Roof Books, 2007)

“Decorativity’s anodyne”, sneers sometimes the pomo fairy. But what if we could spangle it? Take a bodice and rather than it being stricture or base confinement, stud it with jewels which imply a gauche but sparkling autonomy? That the stitches of received “wisdoms” should be undone, and under them should be not nakedness, but the supple and flowing silks of a language undulating in its absence of received ideas! For Nada Gordon’s Folly is only folly in the sense that a courtly mask masks its true purpose. On the wasted heath, of course, the Fool speaks reason more than Lear. Moreover, what is often deemed to be the trivial ripples of “mere surface”, is often simply that which refuses the mock gravity of the deeper establishment monsters. Why mistrust surface, and the sun which glitters there? Mainly, there is a lightness to all tinsel, and yet its gleam, properly handled, may be blinding. For this, it’s scary. One would hate to think language the only jewel gifted with self-glint awareness; and yet, strangely, it seems to be thus, and we may only hope to occasionally see our own face in the diadem.

As, alas, what’s heavy and sinks, declaring itself in combat against “all vile cliché” or “artificial expression”, itself falls into the hole it has dug for others, and must sit there in the dark till Ted Kooser screams hello. Thank deity we have Folly to dance us gaily around this pit, blithe to a “legitimacy” wherein the lightest airs are swallowed and homogenizingly chewed. To this comforting mastication, I’d prefer to float on dazzling clouds of Gordon’s “gingko perfume”. I too “want it all – ferns! fizz! – the woiks”.

“It’s ordinary to want to move around on top of a glittery puzzle piece – why not?” Why not indeed! You mean I’m not abnormal? You mean others, who hate us, don’t possess the “true language”? I thought Babel had been built and its divine address hidden, but now I find :

Who isn’t envaginated in rhetoric?
Slathered with its perfume, pigs root through
the debris of the 20th century – a scuttling octopus,
a spidery machine, ghosts of ocean rays.

Consider me envaginated! For Folly knows that an inherent artifice in language – en tant que moderative formality, sense, and music – does not necessarily lead to any “falsity” of consequent production, any more than a jeweled veil warps possible skins beneath. Floating over the face, the veil-language is added to that spoken by the tongue – itself a modified truth – and by pressing it through such small spaces for light, breaks it into competing, dialectical beams.

In this way, “the same old/ arguments” may perhaps “all disappear in a shower of gluey sparks”. Sparks which because of their stickiness may again coagulate: but the initial breakage is necessary, allowing us to spangle murky borders with the fireworks of new perspectives : “Cora Pearl: Believe in my heart – how the art divides on you.”

Thus the Rhétoriqueurs, dear Jean Paulhan, will come out of their closets, and greet their hypocritical readers brotherly. This is like discovering the poem’s an all-inclusive carnival, where feathers, breasts and chests are both sexually real and semantic fioritures, and where no-one’s made fun of for not knowing “the moves” :

Helen: My dance is a gift and a victim and an honor and a load. It increases brilliantly.

Poets! Erasmus tells us we are all “rapturous with self-love and flattery”, that we “tickle the ears of fools” with “mere toys and fabulous shams”! But what if our fabulous shams made a carnival more ripe to life’s sadness than any cavernous metaphysical meanderings? What if we’d prefer to dance among the “plume wigglers”, “high kickers” and “panty flashers”, seeing in life’s festival at once Life and its Totentanz? :

The porpoises fling up their
orange underthings; swaying
in the wind, their heavy rotation
is brief and horrifying

full of bright scrawls, of thin
and lacy garters.

Yeats wrote no more adequate stanza with swans, and this gyre is strangely appropriate, for Folly is indeed a book of “bright scrawls”. Such language confers value where value was denied: “She denied the concept that a nail art is only superficial on fingertips.” Who indeed declared nail art unimportant? Those constructing the grand canon? Superficiality is indeed specific: and what “they” call “mere glitter”, Nada Gordon sees as a shifty way to suppress glitter, to make it dull.

Better to clear out the cobwebs with lashings of spark, creating thus new spaces for the deployment of speech: “By representing their fitting color or shapes, it enables to see your new status”. Thus, the Golem will liberate the ghetto, and Gordon will partly unfetter a language from swamps of “sage expression”. “Together we stand, divided we freak out”, though Gordon’s Folly is of course much less freaky than most of that which passes for sane :

Ai – my artifice is floating . . .
isn’t it nonsense
we stopped all this time?
The porn of breath,
the shame of ugly public muckling?

“I had some difficulties understanding curculios”: comprehension’s here lucky to be subjected to arabesque, which marks out a much finer line than the Fox-of-Oppression dressed as the Lamb-of-Expressivity. To say that this is Roof Books’ most energetic and luxurious production in quite a while would be neither hyperbolic nor litotic. Suffice to say it’s fine enough that no animal analogy’s sufficient: it has Peacocks who speak of Courbet, and Bunnies who speak of Rothko, and this convergence of four eloquent, complimentary corners will sadly have to do.

As for specifics, “Sheepnose”, as poem, is too like Un Coup de Dès, and too near-perfect, not to be named big-F Folly. “Coney Island Avenue” is too prolix, discursive and rad, not to wear its own tight Folly T-shirt. As Lucille Ball remarks in “Succomb”: “C’est ici la sagesse” (“Here is wisdom”). The epistemological table, so violently inversed, can only be termed: right Folly.

Needless to say, Gary Sullivan’s rowdy and vital brush only brings to this party more cool kids to dance with. As such luminaries as Desiderius Erasmus, in these pages, reminds us, the realm of folly, against that of restrictive wisdom, is vast. Women are Folly, decorativity is Folly, surprise is Folly, kitsch is Folly, invention is Folly, elegance is Folly, expression is Folly, orange negligées are Folly, stupid didactic gills are Folly, hirsute plunges and mouthed apricots, yea, are Folly, porpoises are Folly, as is all public muckling.

Long live Folly, and fuck the wise.


Nicholas Manning teaches comparative literature at the University of Strasbourg, France. In 2004 he took his MA in twentieth-century poetics from the Sorbonne (Paris IV), and from 2003-2006 held a scholarship at the Ecole normale supérieure of the rue d'Ulm. His poems, articles, translations and reviews have appeared in Verse, The Argotist, Fascicle, Free Verse, Cross Connect, BlazeVox, MiPoesias, Fiera Lingue, Cordite, Dusie, Eratio, Otoliths, Aught, Shampoo, among others. In 2006 he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his first chapbook of poems– Novaless I-XXVI –is out in August from Achiote Press. He is the editor of The Continental Review, and maintains the weblog The Newer Metaphysicals.


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