Nada Gordon, Scented Rushes, Roof Books, 2010

Scented Rushes is a series of highly artificed poems of seduction and frustration. It moves from the excited frustration of approach to the bitter frustration of rejection. The book is loosely epistolary, addressed to a distant love object, one who is truly objectified, having little or no presence beyond the engine he creates for the poems. He is a governor in the engine of the book. The poet's obsession is presented as a given, the reader is given no information about what makes this person appealing to the poet. In some respects the book fits the troubadour model of seduction poetry, though gender-inverted. This structure, and the general aura, which feels like Cindy Sherman crossed with Spongebob Squarepants, creates the feeling of a strangely ambiguous musical theatre project.

These are love poems, but they are not erotic in any direct sense. There is very little in the book addressing questions of pleasure or gratification. The dirtiest thing that is said is "I want to see the front matter." These are aggressive romantic provocations launched into deep space. Their drama comes from the poet wrestling against herself.

The undercurrent of playfulness and semi-epistolary orientation call to mind some obvious parallels, Bernadette Mayer for instance. The drama and conviction that fantasies count calls to mind Lady Gaga, and the love of absurdity and considerable energy and liveliness to a perhaps more unlikely parallel, Benjamin PĂ©ret.

The style is violently florid, entailing thickets of verbal laciness brought to an aggressive, renaissance festival extreme. The tone sometimes veers into prime mid-70s British prog-rock.

"Just where the snail falls from the eye of the sun"

Gordon's extravagantly flowery style and seemingly intentional abuse of adjectives is counterbalanced by an unwavering, expert feel for the arrangement of language.

The combination of forces that come into play as the poems progress from an agitated kind of hope to disappointment and anger produce some startling moments:

"So the rhapsodies now turn inward, like condoms on ghosts."

or this, from a poem set on a subway:

"Everyone has earbuds -- and was once a tiny zygote with DARK IRISES alone in a liquid place."

There are poems that use flarf methods to engage with vocabularies and subject matter that depart considerably from what one might normally expect in dramatic love poetry. These are some of the strongest moments in the book, where the traditional sealed cosmos of the obsessing poet/lover allows for uncanny intersections with the vastness of social quantity.

Daniel Nester interviews me at WWAATD.

Dan's questions are appropriated from various teen magazines. My answers are appropriated from a 1985 interview with Klaus Kinski mixed with various quotations from Bertrand Russell.

Two of the answers are "directly" from me, can you guess which? You could certainly argue that all the answers are really from me.


My interview with Michael Gottlieb is up at Jacket2.