Video of Nada Gordon discussing lyric and flarf poetry.
I first met Nada in 2004 (maybe it was 2005). I was newly married, but had just separated from my (now ex) husband. I was staying in the East Village with a girlfriend and had decided to take some poetry classes at The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church.
It was late fall, and the first few classes we had were in the same room at the church where The Poetry Project holds their Annual New Year’s Day Marathon Reading. The room was yellowish beige, had high ceilings, and without the crowd of people that usually filled the space, was dim and chilly. I was dubious that we’d last the winter in that room. (And we didn’t, eventually we moved to the building across the street—into a brighter, more writers-writing-friendly space).
Nada looked like a woman prepared for the chill. She was petite with an abundance of blackish red curly hair and deep burgundy lipstick. I admired her a-line skirt, velvet platform boots, purple velvet coat over a mustard sweater, and black rimmed glasses. I shivered and self-consciously detested my threadbare cords, cotton turtleneck and two layers of jacket.
On the first day of class, Nada talked about flarf, belly dancing, Japan, her collaborative work with Gary Sullivan and other flarf poets, and her experience with language as an ESL teacher. She gave us a stack of poetry examples and exercises to play with—all of them in their own ways absurd and un-precious. By the time the first class was over, I forgot I was cold—my mind was transported on a Baron Von Munchausen-esque adventure of heady fun.
My first assignment was to create a “Magpie Folder”. Why a magpie folder? Because magpies collect stuff. And we were to collect tidbits of anything that tickled our fancy—magazine articles, words, google searches, songs, poetry in languages we did not know . . .the whole world was up for grabs.
Oh happiness! This playfulness in writing revived me. The air outside was crisp and filled with possibilities. I skipped home to share my homework and my joy with my room mate.
That fall and winter I wrote my favorite poems (and one was even published!)—despite the mind-numbing corporate job and my marital status. I was, and still am, grateful for the writing techniques that Nada shared. Poetry became less about plunging the awful depths of my soul (my mind goes there enough on it’s own without prodding), and more about using culture—the news, social media, google searches, other poetry—to explore culture and entertain myself. (Heck, it beats watching TV)!
So the other day, I almost wept when I watched this video. I know, weird, it’s of a woman talking about lyric poetry and flarf in her kitchen. But she also talks about poetic form as a response to the absurdity and insanity of our world, a way to cope with the craziness that we live in—and if a creative response isn’t a positive one, I don’t know what is.
Let’s see . . . that magpie folder, which is now a magpie box, is under my bed. In it is the syllabus from Nada’s class, along with taped together cut-ups (one of the techniques we discussed in class) of buddhist text, the news, “serious” poetry, journal entries, porn, and lists of magical-sounding plant names.
I’ve got some writing to do!