September 2007

Izetta Mobley


A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow by Noah Eli Gordon

Poetry is the very heart of language, and Noah Eli Gordon makes believing in that heart an easy labor of love. In A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow, Gordon plays word collector, painstakingly calling forth evocative imagery with well-placed and carefully built phrasing. From the outset, Gordon’s title establishes the presence one who works in the sensitive and ephemeral realm of the language architect. His ease and clear comfort with poetry as a medium makes manifest, poet Archibald MacLeish’s declaration that “a poem should not mean/but be.” By making use of personification, repetition, euphony (well-crafted literary speech that flows), and assonance (how vowel sounds are placed in a poem), Gordon’s poems capture instants that fly from the page with the strength of incantations.

In his series entitled “The Right of Return,” Gordon titles seven poems as various books, concluding with the lovely “the book of hunger,” which stands as a strong example of his skill: 

the sound of smoke
was that of expansion
but the breaking of bread
like a dusk-shadow
became a name
losing itself in echo
until there was no sound
but the snapping
etched into each rib
which repeats:

Sparrow, as the title suggests, revolves around musical metaphor, with references to landscape and architecture, and what seems to me, to be an investigation of John Keats theory of “negative capability,” Keats belief that, “when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact & reason.” While the musical metaphor and literary reference to structure, in both the built environment and language, keep the reader grounded and engaged despite changes in the writing style and form, it is the “negative capability,” which gives the collection a dream-like and almost telepathic quality. Gordon’s ability to divorce himself from the constraints of reason and syllogism, allow his poetry, particularly in the final section of the collection, to trigger meaning and emotion, even in the absence of narrative clues.

Some readers, specifically those more fond of prose poetry, may find some of the poems in Gordon’s collection esoteric. Indeed, there were a few poems that left me more quizzical than mysteriously elevated, especially toward the end of the collection, when it feels as if Gordon is enjoying words and image more than providing a setting for readers to enjoy his poetic machinations. I’d suggest that readers think of Gordon as walking in the strong tradition of modern poets, who work to redefine and stretch the heartbeat of poetry. Speaking of heartbeats, an untitled poem caused my heart to flutter in recognition of the rough-hewn beauty of being human in a modern world bent on exculpating itself from nature:

Blinds bring a quarter-inch world
itinerant architecture

The most complex organ
wants only to be

touched, teased a bit

& birds would hate
the singularity
of their idiot noise

if it were us
who'd built them

Poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr. once said, “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” It is the simplicity, the suggestion of longing, the understated wit, the quiet doom measured with healthy relief which inhabits Gordon’s work, that made reading the collection feel like a discovery.

A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow by Noah Eli Gordon
New Issues Poetry & Prose
ISBN: 193097468X
98 Pages