The Word Kingdom in the Word Kingdom
Brooklyn Arts Press, 2015
158 pages – BAP
This is a gorgeously crafted collection. Yes, crafted…not just written…and it takes a true Poet (the Artist of words) to accomplish this.
This is an examination, as Gordon suggests in his Afterword, of “moving paradoxically from intellection to imagination.” But this collection is not just about moving from one to the other. This is also a collection of how intellect and imagination are not just concepts exclusive to themselves, but how they interact with – and speak to – each other, which creates numerous wonderful metaphysical dichotomies. It’s a poetic collision between the thing-ness of Intellect and the thing-ness of Imagination themselves. Afterwards, the “witness” as Gordon suggests, finds pieces of the two strewn about and mixed violently but peacefully amongst the other.
Gordon quotes Didion in the Afterword: “[w]e tell ourselves stories in order to live.” He then asks, “what happens when we’ve told them all, when we run out of these stories, when we have to live in order to tell them?” This is the type of responsive metaphysical question that intellectualizes “stories” into “Stories” (capital S, indeed) where “stories” is not just a word-thing, but a proper-noun-thing…a place, a fact…the Word Kingdom!
So, if Intellect is the place (the Word Kingdom), Imagination is suited to represent the word “kingdom.” The word “kingdom” represents the attempt to interpret, “sad[ly] and triumphant[ly],” something else. Gordon gives the example of dogs mimicking the sound of sirens. The word “kingdom” represents the free-ness of Imagination.
And so, “kingdom” and the Word Kingdom are constantly bound in a multi-faceted relationship. In “This,” Gordon compares this ideology of Language to that of visual Art:
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.
Whereas the “lines and shapes” are merely words, the “collision” is what gives meaning to them. But ultimately the “witness” of these lines is left without a clear-cut end or beginning to them. Such is the wonderment of Language. Wondering, wandering for answers.
“This” is a somewhat lengthy poem that begins with a list of word-things, for which we all know there is a subjectivity between the Sign and Signifier. There’s freedom for the “witness” of these word-things on the page to interpret at will. There’s also the arbitrary value of why these specific word-things are included in the poem and not other word-things.
This guardrail / This bluishness / This potato
Why these words?
This “This” poem takes us on a journey into the materiality of words…hence my insistence to deem them as “word-things.” This collection is, ultimately, about “word-things.” The word “guardrail” refers to a tangible thing, whereas the word “bluishness” refers to a nontangible thing. But this is just the beginning of Gordon’s exploration, in “This” alone mind you, of said materiality of words.
“This Armenian”: proper noun
“This word (procrustean)”: the word “word” referring to the word “procrustean”
“This poem:” where NEG inserts within “This” an actual poem that itself just lists word-things…a list of “Chips” such as “Doritos” and “Cheetos” and, playfully, “Erik Estrada” (all proper nouns, not simply nouns)
“This” goes on to mention other modes of materiality of words: translated words, the printed word itself on the page we are reading, the font and size those words are printed in (he even has a line printed in actual smaller size and acknowledges himself doing so), the concept that words are “abandoned” until they are printed, how one word such as “dumpling” can be the “literal one” or the “term of endearment.” He even refers us to the distinction between “This gnat” and “This gnat (not the same one).” He’s definitely having fun here with us (intellectually and imaginatively). “This yellow jacket”…not the bee but “(the garment).”
Gordon knows that a single word can invoke endless possibilities of concepts, senses, memories, other words, other things, and imagination of emotions. In “The Laughing Alphabet,” he states
So we are entered in the Guestbook of Boundaries […] the stratum cast as a theoretical ax in the actual air.
The “theoretical” within the “actual” and the boundaries thereof. But it seems there are no boundaries of what Gordon can do with words. He’s simultaneously playful, intellectual, and creative. As a man, he is remembering not just his childhood, but Childhood in general with a “line of water rendered with blue crayon[…],” a crayon that later in the poem “contain[s] a house […] & an infinite edge of forest.” An edge that is infinite suggests a boundary-less word-realm…or the Word Kingdom. And, playfully, like a child might imagine…this forest contains “blue leaves & blue bark.”
“The Laughing Alphabet” reiterates the concept of the collision between word and Kingdom relationships. It’s a poem in three parts. The first addresses the “memory / of the form of the fox:”. Then Gordon goes deeper in the second part by addressing “The form of fox.” The third part simultaneously goes deeper and broader by addressing “memory of form” (not just “the form of the fox,” but “form” in a general sense). In the third part he’s seemingly suggesting a broadening of the “edge” and “outline” of Memory by saying, “The intellect that will arrange a boat & intellectualism’s buoyancy,” whereas “intellect” is just the word-thing and “intellectualism” the Kingdom in which “intellect” can remain adrift (all my italics). So does Memory involve Intellect? The “memory of form” seems to involve “[a] fox intelligence placing us outside the frame, a master/student dynamic.”
Perhaps Memory does involve Intellect (represented by the fox) and Childhood (represented by the blue forest). And perhaps, as Gordon suggests, Memory involves the act of Intellect leaving Childhood. In other words, Adulthood, which is a formless mess at times.
a formlessness taken on when the fox moves from the blue forest.
This is a collection packed with images that seemingly drift from each other but in actuality are immensely connected…colliding into each other. This is a collection dedicated to the metaphysical self-referential quality of words. A collection that celebrates not just words invoking images but the words as images themselves, as word-things. There are so many poetically joyful moments that touch on exactly what Gordon is doing:
explode the word “construct” (from “Ten Ways To Take An Airplane Apart”)
To paint the word lighthouse on a lighthouse is deserving of shipwreck. (from “Eight Meditations on Enormity, Petrification, and Work”)
Not only do words have relationships with other words in this Kingdom, but we have relationships with words and the things they refer to…relationships that change over time. In the title poem of this collection:
Each that that that the baby names
A baby cannot name the thing, has no relationship with the word for the thing. Just “that.” While in the last poem, “This,” there is specific naming of specific things (as an adult is able to do). I find some of Gordon’s genius (dare I use that word?!) when he ultimately reminds us, with the use of one word that is repeated, that adults ultimately don’t know shit.
These poems are joyful and smart, and take the reader not only into physical places but into the places of possibilities of words themselves. As a poet, this is what continues to thrill me about words…they are places. And we only have to open the book to find where they can take us. For we belong to them, inside them. We, the poets, are the followers into their kingdom. Gordon has drawn the map into it and yet still constructs that fabulous sense of being lost, being free to explore. To roam this Kingdom. To not just read words on a page, but to experience them.