IMPROMPTU #6: Noah Eli Gordon

Noah Eli Gordon

Gordon - PictureWhen I was about twenty, I remember sitting in my room one night, annoyed with something my housemates were up to, and a bit bored with whatever my other friends were doing. It was one of those evening where you just feel aimless, off-balance, agitated. There was something gnawing at me, but I didn’t know what. Then, out of nowhere, a procession of sirens passed by my house. I mean there were fire trucks, police cars, a few ambulances, lots and lots of noise—sudden, alarming noise; then, nothing. It was dead silent for maybe a second or two before the sirens picked up again. This time they seemed to come from every direction, as though they were surrounding the house. But the pitch was off, all wobbly, a weird vibrato, like electronics trying to run on nearly-dead batteries. The sound wasn’t coming from the sirens at all. It was an animal sound. It was every dog in the neighborhood at once attempting to imitate the noise. None of them could do it quite right, but damn were they going for it. It felt simultaneously sad and triumphant. It was the exact moment I decided to be a writer.

Whether written two thousand years ago or just last Wednesday, I think all poetry speaks to us from the present, from a multiplicity of presences, from a place that tells us not necessarily what life was like at any historical moment but rather, and more poignantly, what it was—and is—like to be alive.

For several years now, I’ve been writing a book comprised of prompts, constraints, and guidelines for various art projects. Here, then, are a handful of those:

1.

Invite seven friends to dinner. It’s best if they’re not close friends. Once everyone’s arrived, explain the recording device you’ve placed in the center of the table. Tell them it’s for a book. Make sure there’s plenty of wine. Spend a week transcribing the conversation. Call the book Dinner.

2.

Ask one hundred people with whom you’re acquainted to share their favorite anecdote about you. Ask them to send this to you as a brief paragraph written in the second person. Arrange these paragraphs into a book; number them. Call the book You.

3.

Write short summations of each of the pieces in Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems. Call the work Snack Poems.

4.

See what happens if you take the body-text of every email addressed specifically to you (nothing forwarded or from any listserv) currently in you inbox and allow by removing everyone’s name all of the voices to collide into one continuous text. There, now you have what I’ll call a reverse memoir.

5.

Write a sonnet in the modern key:

Line 1: narrate action, include at least two nouns
Line 2: ask a question without using “I”
Line 3: make a statement without saying “I”
Line 4: now say “I” in another statement
Line 5: use a fragment
Line 6: narrate another action, include one of the nouns from line 1
Line 7: ask a question using “I”
Line 8: use a fragment that
Line 9: spills into the next line
Line 10: now say “I” and include the other noun from line 1
Line 11: answer your first question
Line 12: make a statement that is in total opposition to line 3
Line 13: combine phrases from lines 5 and 8 here
Line 14: answer your second question

6.

Begin my making a list of specific instances when you were first made aware of the concept of race. Compile as many of these as you can. Once you’ve exhausted your memory here, continue to list moments in your life in which race played a role, no matter how minor or seemingly unimportant. Think of as many as you can. For now, though, this should simply be a list, shorthand for a specific moment, an anecdote. This list should be long. In fact, it could be endless. You’re probably still writing it.

7.

Write a poem comprised of a single sentence, spread across at least seven lines of no fewer than five words each. Repeat one of your lines three times, but not in succession. Include the following:

the phrase “as when the”
a scientific term
a flower’s proper name
the name of a country in South America
a person’s proper name
the phrase “which is to say”
something improper

8.

With as much conviction as you can muster, write a sentence that might act as a solid foundation upon which one might build the perfect house.

9.

Write a prose poem of five sentences. The first sentence should include a pronoun ( not “I”) doing something that itself includes an image/object. The 2nd sentence should have a different pronoun doing something else with the same image/object. The 3rd sentence should be a statement about this image/object. For the 4th sentence, write a simile that is unrelated. In the 5th, use “I” and relate part of the simile to the original statement. I know this all sounds rather clinical, but here by way of example is one I wrote:

The Problem

A woman accidentally walks into the men’s room. A man deliberately walks into the women’s room. I don’t believe in dialectics but abide by them nonetheless. It is like a painting of someone sheathing a sword. The problem is it is also like a painting of someone unsheathing a sword.

10.

Locate someone named Harvey Keitel. This Harvey shouldn’t be the actor. If you’re only able to locate the actor, that’s fine, but you’ll have to switch to Harrison Ford (I just found 37 Harrison Fords in ten seconds on Whitepages.com). Continually ask Harvey about his films—be aggressive, yet compassionate. What was it like to do that emotionally pummeling scene in The Bad Lieutenant—the one where you’re masturbating in front of those women? Did it bring up any weird issues for you? Here, you want to put Harvey a little on edge. Disregard completely Harvey’s denial about not being that Harvey Keitel. Transcribe the interview. Pitch it to as many mainstream media sources as possible. Collect the responses to your pitch, as well as any response to the actual submission of the interview. Arrange these into a work called That Harvey Keitel.


Noah Eli Gordon is the author of nine books of poetry. He lives in Denver’s Congress Park neighborhood and is an Assistant Professor in the MFA program in Creative Writing at The University of Colorado–Boulder, where he currently directs Subito Press. For over fifteen years now, Noah Eli Gordon’s work has proliferated with lightning speed, garnering attention and awards from a cavalcade of prominent poets, ranging from Robert Creeley and Carolyn Forché to John Ashbery and Claudia Rankine, who calls Gordon “a master of the shift between an epigrammatic and an aphoristic line.” Critic Stephen Burt, writing for The Nation, notes how Gordon’s poetry, which he called “delightful,” is “reacting to big modern systems, above all to the system called capitalism, whose results and failures seem inescapable,” while Sesshu Foster, in selecting his book Novel Pictorial Noise for the San Francisco State Poetry Center Book Award, noted Gordon’s “play of improvisation, impelled by tensions between sequence and syntax, making music out of chromatic order and non-sequitur logic.”

51 Comments

  • April 6, 2016

    Nathalie Boisard-Beudin

    Thank you for all these prompts!
    Pressed for time, I had to go for the easiest: http://spacedlaw.dreamwidth.org/152145.html

    • April 6, 2016

      Misky

      Excellent. I really enjoyed this one.

    • April 6, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      i enjoyed yours quite a bit. i was very tempted by this prompt too.

    • April 6, 2016

      Linda Crosfield

      Well done! I laughed out loud at the improper bit.

  • April 6, 2016

    Jenn Cavanaugh

    This just inspires me to write more writing prompts that are actually prose poems in disguise.

  • April 6, 2016

    Misky

    I went with Snack Poems, but didn’t have the time to tackle the entire “Lunch Poems” collection. I wrote this as found and remixed text and lines. Not exactly to the prompt, and for that I apologise.

    https://thirtydayspoetry.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/day-6-snack-poems-from-frank-ohara/

    • April 6, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      this is gorgeous. don’t you love the way your style changes when you use found text & remix lines? i find it fascinating.

  • April 6, 2016

    Amanda Earl

    ah, i loved all of these. i chose the sonnet – Ladies Delight and Knock Me Down http://amandaearl.blogspot.ca/2016/04/impromptu-6-ladies-delight-and-knock-me.html

    • April 6, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      Wonderful work, Amanda!

    • April 6, 2016

      Misky

      I absolutely love “I am in love with the murdered berry.”

      • April 6, 2016

        Amanda Earl

        thanks, Misky. i could imagine restarting a new poem with that line.

    • April 6, 2016

      Mark Staniforth

      Really enjoyed this – the juxtaposition of debauchery/ruination with such heady herbs and spices etc.

  • April 6, 2016

    Stephanie Ellis

    I had a bash at the sonnet challenge, Chaos Theory, http://stephellis.weebly.com/

    • April 6, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      Enjoyed your poem a lot, Stephanie!

    • April 6, 2016

      Misky

      And a very good old bash it is, too!

  • April 6, 2016

    Bill Waters

    Cool prompts! :- D

    I was surprised to find that No. 6 resonated pretty strongly with me. The following doesn’t adhere to the prompt, exactly, but here’s what I came up with. Also, my poem is applicable to more differences than only race; personally, I was thinking of religion.

    Otherness

    Not fitting in because of it.
    Being held to a different standard because of it.
    Being “put on display” in elementary school because of it.
    Being bullied in high school because of it.
    Wanting to be someone else, sometimes, because of it.
    Being told on the phone “you can’t date my daughter” because of it.
    For one reason or another, always feeling uncomfortable with it.
    Surprising people by not being prejudiced toward others, despite it.

    • April 6, 2016

      Misky

      And feeling very sad for you because of it…

      • April 6, 2016

        Bill Waters

        Aww, thank you, Misky. I’m all grown up now, and it’s not a problem in my life anymore. Just picking over the bones of my past to better understand myself in the present. _/|\_

    • April 6, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      Good one, Bill Waters! Very meaningful!

  • […] Made from Memory prompt” Kate Foley’s “Things to Remember prompt” Found Poetry’s “Bonus (Ten) prompts w/ Noah Eli Gordon” The City Quill’s “Pet Sonnet prompt” Dear Poet: Write Me’s “Out of […]

  • April 6, 2016

    A. Garnett Weiss

    In response to Noah Eli Gordon’s prompt of April 6: “Write a poem comprised of a single sentence, spread across at least seven lines of no fewer than five words each. Repeat one of your lines 3 times, but not in succession. Include the following: the phrase “as when the’, a scientific term, a flower’s proper name, the name of a country in South America, a person’s proper name, the phrase ‘which is to say,’ something improper.”

    Uncle

    You make me do what I don’t want to
    but I can’t pretend I don’t understand —
    you: Self-satisfied, self-pleasured, self-absorbed, self-ish Sam—
    you speak to me in dialects I wish were foreign
    or that I’d need a cochlear implant to hear
    but I can’t pretend I don’t understand
    which is to say I’m like helianthus facing south and west
    as when the sun goes down toward Ecuador
    and I turn, too, because you make me do what I don’t want to
    but I can’t pretend I don’t understand

  • April 6, 2016

    Vinita Agrawal

    A delectable buffet of prompts today! Thank you Noah. I chose the sonnet prompt for now
    https://vinitawords.wordpress.com/2016/04/07/apsis/

  • April 6, 2016

    JM Scott

    I chose prompt #9, my poem “Wrapping Paper” can be found here http://candlesticksandcadavers.blogspot.com/2016/04/wrapping-paper.html

  • April 6, 2016

    Mark Staniforth

    Here’s mine – inspired by (though not adhering to) prompt 8. It’s a cut-up from an old book called “Across the Caucasus”, whose descriptions of impenetrable stone forts etc somehow chimed with the prompt. https://goo.gl/M9jpWq

  • […] Susan Powers Bourne Source: Impromptu | Noah Eli Gordon Process: Pick and mix […]

  • April 6, 2016

    Carol A. Stephen

    gee. As if three challenge poems a day was not enough! But no, Carol you WILL not attempt all of these prompts, you WILL NOT! I say to myself, despairingly… sob…

    • April 6, 2016

      Vinita Agrawal

      I was pining for a refreshing nature poem – yours was a treat, Carol! Thank you!

  • […] Today’s Impromptu prompt over at Found Poetry Review comes from Noah Eli Gordon. Well, actually 10 prompts. You can see his suggestions (and poems by the other participants!) here at FPR. […]

  • April 6, 2016

    Carol A. Stephen

    Okay so I ended up with the sonnet one. But I may go back to some of the others later on. https://quillfyre.wordpress.com/2016/04/06/napowrimo-2016-impromptu-6/

  • […] Susan Powers Bourne Source: Impromptu | Noah Eli Gordon Process: Pick and mix […]

  • […] Susan Powers Bourne Source: Impromptu | Noah Eli Gordon Process: Pick and mix […]

  • April 6, 2016

    Barbara Crary

  • April 6, 2016

    Melissa Meske

    I went with prompt # 7–it turned out to be so much fun! Here’s what I pulled together:

    The Unintentional Bloom

    Her lips were painted a bright orchid
    As when the purple has come bursting through
    Which is to say they were not painted orange or yellow
    As when the epiphyte might otherwise develop its hue
    And travel far from its Brazilian biome
    As when the seeds made their first debut
    Through Georgia O’Keefe’s canvas and her subliminal view.

    –Melissa Crockett Meske, April 6, 2016

  • April 6, 2016

    Linda Crosfield

    http://purplemountainpoems.blogspot.mx/2016/04/he-always-liked-to-be-right-found-poem.html

    First I tried the one about the email inbox, but it turns out most of my mail is forwarded from listservs which was a no-no so I went with the long sentence one. And ended up with a very weird story that has little basis in fact.

  • April 6, 2016

    S.E. Ingraham

    Wow – so many cool prompts. As it is with Carol Stephen, I am talking myself out of doing more than one, and the one I selected was not that difficult, but it was fun …http://soundofthewordnight.blogspot.ca/2016/04/the-fragility-of-horses.html

  • April 7, 2016

    james w. moore

  • […] poem was written in response to a prompt posted by the Found Poetry Review, written by poet Noah Eli Gordon. It follows the fifth prompt (the sonnet) which Gordon suggests. […]

    • April 7, 2016

      Amanda Earl

      i’m loving these Bede-works, Doug.nicely done.

  • […] IMPROMPTU 2016: Noah Eli Gordon […]

  • April 7, 2016

    m.a.scott

    Can’t wait to come back to more of these prompts later.

    From the 8th Floor

    The driver taps his fingers on the wheel.
    What is he listening to?
    His black truck idles at the traffic light.
    I try to crave the same sort of collision,
    second-hand story of blank metal.
    This is how fingers can straighten a line.
    If I open my fist, can I intersect it?
    Not a scene of drowning, a fractured
    line, and not for the first time.
    I have enough repetition to fill a prayer wheel.
    Nothing I can hear, not from this height.
    The light turns green, the truck takes off into
    the mind blank intersection of metal.
    Yes. I cross it.

  • April 8, 2016

    Bill Waters

    In addition to prompt no. 6, I was also captivated by no. 9. I’ve reeled off half a dozen of these scripted prose poems — very fun! — and they seem to fall into two camps: “Odd Observations” and “Ominous Dreams”. Here is one from the latter category…

    Ominous Dreams No. 3

    They surge past the guards and form a crowd in front of the embassy building. You step out onto the balcony and prepare to address them. Scenes such as this always seem more dramatic in a movie or an old newsreel. Some say a car backfiring sounds like a gunshot. I drive out of the picture as my car, half-stalling, backfires again and again.

  • April 8, 2016

    Wayne Berninger

    SORRY IT TOOK SO LONG: a reverse memoir

    FYI. It was styled text when i viewed it. I read by default in plain text but can view with styled text/images as required, but still, with the line break, saying it out loud, it was very Homer Simpson-esque, and as i recall, “jack-knifed sugar truck” was one of your favorite homerisms (along with, from the same episode, “but marge, those are prizes”). I’m assuming you saw this. I don’t know if I told you this. I’m teaching a workshop for […] starting 4/24. See below. Sorry about that. I apologize for not letting you know we weren’t coming. I’ll look this over. Maybe he thought he’d be worm food and made a typo. Sorry to have been so very slow to reply to your emails. I’ve been feeling kind of overwhelmed by everything I have to do. “Seminar in Contemporary Fiction” is indeed the new course title effective Fall 2016. Nothing has been happening with revision of the grad curriculum. Nobody has responded to requests for comments or revisions–so let’s just go with the last version produced last Fall, which I’ve attached. Yup. Also she is the subject of my vague contribution to the Facebook comment thread you don’t remember. I subbed her class four times in three weeks spring 2014. Because she didn’t wanna come to campus. OMG! How are you? Geez it’s been forever. Hope you are well. Would you be able to attend this luncheon? I’m teaching and then attending the dean’s search meeting. Guess who got paid for thesis work without realizing it because it was electronically deposited in her account? And she didn’t check. ​I am going to say something to him; I just need to figure out when and how. I’ll keep y’all in the loop.

  • April 10, 2016

    Richard Walker

  • […] sixth National Poetry Month prompt from the Found Poetry Review is obviously a trolling “write whatever you want” post, but I do do Sonnets, so I chose […]

  • […] Day 6: Noah Eli Gordon […]