Date of Award
Master of Fine Arts (MFA)
Noah Eli Gordon
In a recent Poetics Statement he wrote for the Lyric Postmodernisms anthology, Peter Gizzi says: "As I listen to a poem unfold in my ear it becomes clear that for every line I hear there are more lines resonating in the same field of meaning. Listening is everything in poetry: to silences, the pauses, shifts in syntax, tone and content." Half-Shine is primarily a manuscript about listening - listening for subtle shifts in consciousness, openings in habituated speech and registers of thought, and finding them occurring in social, private, and even allegorical realms. I wanted these poems to speak to the possible co-existence of these registers and spaces, but most importantly, I wanted them attuned outward - to always be listening for the vital material that is able to come in from without. I start with Gizzi because I think he has been the most influential writer to me during my time in the program. I say this knowing it is a large statement that probably contains kernels rather than blankets of truth. But I want to believe it, because reading his work opened me up toward different possibilities in language. His lyric creates a certain type of simultaneity that has become very me - it seems to be spoken both from "inside" the lyric I, and also from "outside" it, from a more remote, perhaps disembodied place. In this, his poems always seem to be questioning the positioning of this "I" in relation to larger networks - history, political structures, relationships - and to be shaping this questioning into lyric possibility. In the same statement, he writes: "What amazes me is how specific the "other" or phantom poem can be, and it occurs to me how language, when arranged, manipulated, built, or what you will, is saying both readings - together and separate. I imagine that the lyric is next to my life, but isn't my life at the same time that it is real." Here, Gizzi interrogates the lyric space and the plausibility of its inclusion in the social space, and these are concerns that very much resonate in my work. Half-Shine started with a clear aim: to measure the distance between belief and doubt. It also started with a central premise - that of the miracle - which came and went as I worked on the manuscript. The idea of the miracle became important to me through my family: I have many cousins and more distant relatives that truly believe in them, and have tried to convince me to also believe in them. For my poems, this translated into an exploration of the lyric space and its interaction with what is outside of it, the possibility that, as Peter Gizzi says, it "isn't my life but at the same time [is] real." This also includes the lyric subject. To expand on this a bit: rather than conceptualize the miracle as proof of God's existence, as it would be in the Bible, I tried to think of the miracle as a correspondence, an unforeseen dialogue with something or someone that exists within a social or linguistic sphere. In the manuscript, the speech act becomes important in this regard - often a speaker is addressing an unseen subject that she senses is there. The desire being expressed is to bring them closer. Incantation is a mode I use a lot when expressing this desire. What is important to me is that the speech act is not sovereign (again, the way the miracle is traditionally enacted) but is contingent on an interaction with something else. What I hope to evoke is not a sense of transcendence, but a sense of immediacy, which, as Kierkegaard says is a mode in which "everything is true." I want this mode of belief to be less dependent on an idea of actual "truth" than a sense of lyric possibility, which could also translate to agency brought about by imaginative thought. Doubt surfaces in more reflective poems, in which the lyric "I" is able think about itself from more of a distance, is perhaps "speaking" to itself from a distance. These poems express a different sort of desire - the "you" is notably absent or more dispersed in many of them. They also question language's ability to cohere or redeem this fragmentation, which I mean to valorize - this is an important question to have. I also don't mean to create an opposition between belief and doubt here - I only hoped to show them as elements of the process of poetic creation. Another important element of this manuscript is its response to the idea of knowing. Different methods of quantifying knowledge are mentioned in poem titles - studies, photographs, indexes - but these titles are meant to cut against this idea, creating affective webs rather than definitive methods for knowing or understanding. Even in my prose sections, "Five Last-Minute Pilgrimages," and "Photographs of Women in Various States of Illumination," I hope to delimit the framework I've placed on the work somehow. This is a response to my process. I found as I was writing that the logic of the pieces started to create itself in the act. Perhaps this is where my interest in "illumination" comes from - St. Augustine's belief in supernatural, or divine intervention in the realm of thought, or Simone Weil's worship of emptiness, which is the place to "receive grace." I don't believe in the divine part, but I do think a vital catalytic process occurs while opening, or being outside the self, which the lyric "I" - in its ability to migrate inside/outside itself in a poem - can facilitate, inspire, or speak to at the very least. One of the main ideas of this manuscript is that the self exists in a linguistic network larger than itself (and not the other way around), but I don't think the self has to be destroyed in this discovery - only re-inscribed (sometimes sorrowfully, sometimes ecstatically) in different contexts. Finally, Half-Shine works through issues of trauma, bewilderment, loss, fear, and love. It takes on issues of gender and "othering" and will continue to develop these threads as the book continues to shape. It is primarily about listening to my imagination conjure the voices and the material it has collected for the past three years. Thank you for reading it.
Almeida, Alexis, "Half-Shine" (2015). English Graduate Theses & Dissertations. 74.