KRISTINA MARIE DARLING Reviews
Inbox by Noah Eli Gordon
(BlazeVOX Books, New York, 2006)
In his poetry collection Inbox, Noah Eli Gordon collects and juxtaposes the emails of friends, colleagues, and publishers, creating a shrewd, engaging commentary on the business of poetry. Often pairing the academic with the commercial, Inbox presents the requests for manuscripts, solicitations of readings, and friendly critiques sent to the author as an uninterrupted stream of thought that inevitably blurs. Touting this text as a “reverse autobiography,” Gordon raises fascinating questions about American culture, its relationship to academia, and the poet’s place in all of this noise, entertaining and constantly surprising the reader all the while.
In addition to the incisive commentary found in Gordon’s project, the use of stylistic devices to convey these points is impressive. While analyzing the changing face of academia and the poet’s shifting role within it, the author’s use of slang, acronyms, and an overtly casual tone suggest that poetry has become, as Dana Goia terms it in his well-known essay “Can Poetry Matter?”, a “subculture.” Gordon, however, questions the negativity inherent in this statement, and these stylistic aspects of the book emphasize the sense of community between academic poets. For example, Inbox reads: “I might abandon the idea of an MFA altogether. After all that AWP action here last weekend, I’m not so sure I want to sign up. Would be good to catch up on the phone or in person one of these days” (59). Filled with acronyms, contractions, and sentence fragments, Gordon’s text is delightfully informal, but accessible only to those involved enough in poetry to be familiar with these book titles and poets’ initials. His stylistic choices raise several interesting questions about audience, his book being a well-read and well-crafted affirmation of this very specific but devoted type of reader.
As he addresses these debates within the poetry community, Gordon also offers smart, funny commentary on the business of writing. Often satirizing the self-promotion of writers through hilarious juxtapositions and ingenious pairings, Inbox proves a humorous, erudite collection. For example, Gordon’s book reads: “Think of this as a real casual inquiry, because I know how crazy production schedules are. WE NEED MORE PRESSES! Hi to Sara. Hope you guys are well. How are your ‘career plans’ shaping up? Sorry if that’s a sensitive question” (9). Possibly blending two email texts in this passage, the blurring of voices becomes a source of fascinating incongruities and well-read humor throughout the book. Inbox is filled with passages like this, which parody and critique aspects of the poetry community while maintaining a balanced perspective on what it means to be a poet.
Overall, Noah Eli Gordon’s Inbox is an entertaining and intellectually engaging read. Anyone who is seriously committed to the reading and/or writing of poetry will be missing out if they don’t add this book to their library. Highly recommended.
Kristina Marie Darling is an undergraduate at Washington University in St. Louis. She is the author of four chapbooks, which include Fevers and Clocks (March Street Press, 2006) and The Traffic in Women (Dancing Girl Press, 2006). A Pushcart Prize nominee in 2006, her work has appeared in many publications, which include The Mid-America Poetry Review, PIF Magazine, Janus Head, The Midwest Book Review, The Arabesques Review, and others. Recent awards include residencies at the Writers Colony at Dairy Hollow and the Mary Anderson Center for the Arts.