Nada Gordon responds:
I don’t know.
I have sort of answered this question before, phrased a bit differently (“Where, for you, does writing begin?”), in an interview that Thomas Beckett did with me many years ago:
I can say with certainty that writing begins with a sense of having to do something. Most humans are driven to make things. I’m not well-trained enough in anything else to do anything else. I’m pretty good at singing (the writing comes out of the noisy inner verbal singing as it combines with the zings, burps, stutters, drones, lies, crashes, slogans and hums of what I hear outside) but never really had the urge to try to be a serious singer. I would have liked to have been a potter but I don’t like the feeling of clay drying under my fingernails — it makes me shiver to think of it. I would love to be a dancer but I’m shocked at my own lack of coordination. Painting takes a lot of space and light and the materials are expensive. Film is so technical. And so on. I fixed on writing partly because the materials are so minimal.
But there’s more I want to say, some of which I intimated in the passage above.
Largely, I write to satisfy the demands of rhythm. It flops about inside me, teases, bumps around, annoys, and I have to purge it and get it out. It wants to be form. It wants to be form as sound and also as meaning, but hardly ever does it want to be meaning first and hen sound. I mean then sound. (It is sometimes like a hen sound.) So, I experience language somewhat demonically – and ironically, the only movies that really scare me are those in which people are possessed. I read the Exorcist when I was eleven, I think, and that was a very bad idea, because of course I had to read it again and again, and I read Sybil at around the same time, also multiply (pun sort of intended) and the idea of losing control to such extents seemed to me to be, still seems to me to be, the ultimate nightmare, like the bad acid trip I had when I was seventeen that more or less put me off drugs henceforth. Language moving through me is quite enough, thank you, in terms of such possession, and it is such a willful mistress, I have to hop to it when she says to, and then we have a bit of a wrestling match, two ladies writhing about in verbal muck (eat your hearts out).
I don’t know that I write because I have “something to say,” although incidentally, sometimes I “say things,” just as a matter of course, in the way so many conceptual poems nowadays “have prosody” only as an incidental matter, because it’s always already there.
It’s more I suppose that I have this intense compulsion to make things that weren’t there before: unique slices of time and sound. And in that compulsion is a kind of drugginess (back to possession): the “spell” of the poem.
I was taking notes for this while listening to a reading/lecture that Melissa Buzzeo was giving at Pratt, and I wrote down this line of hers: “we rub our footprints into space.” I don’t like empty space very much. I’m given to decorate it. Even when I was a little kid I decorated my white Keds with green/orange/purple permanent markers in paisley designs. Minimalism makes me uncomfortable, makes me feel I’m starving for stimulation or that I’m not quite alive.
Writing eats up empty space and replaces it with a kind of iridescent guano.
That GUANO is a kind of pathway to thoughts, combinations, sensations I’d not had preciously, I mean previously. It branches out like nerves, or veinways, and in this it feels physical.
I don’t think it’s usually very rhetorical except in the way it tries to seduce the reader to join me in hearing the sounds of my own head, or the sounds of others I have woven into my own sounds, you know, because I do borrow things.
I also like tiny internal spaces and that is why I have a dollhouse. You know, I think of some poems as dollhouses or dioramas, others as tunnels or tubes, and others as having terrains, sometimes (although not usually in my case) arid or (more likely) ferny. So I suppose I write to create these spaces and in this it is sort of “escapist.” I’m not really into taking on The Issues of the Day at least as a very deliberate motivation, although sometimes they do rear their ugly heads as part of the trudge through the batshit; I also am not very good at truth propositions although I am very good at setting up FALSE analogies to things that make you (or me at any rate) think, huh? what? I like FALSENESS and ARTIFICIALITY a lot and since making poems is ARTIFICING, no matter what, I like to forefront these things.
There is a whole complex of social and interpersonal reasons to write that also figure into my motivations, I guess. I want to “join the conversation,” as they say these days, and I want to make friends and frienemies and have more interesting conversations and go to better parties as a result of the writing, and indeed, my life has borne out how unillusory this motivation is. Also, most of human behavior, I have decided, amounts to the display of plumage, so I believe I am doing that, too, and that is part of the motivation for not just writing the words and poems but fanning them out in public, too.
Plus, writing is entertainment, a notion on which I have elsewhere held forth –definitely for me and maybe for you, too, if you like this sort of thing.
Why do I write? I’m still not entirely sure, but…
…what is that corny and patronizing Ab-Ex thing Nick Nolte the middle-aged sexually frustrated painter says to his hot hot young ice-queen muse-temptress assistant Rosanna Arquette in Scorcese’s great little short film “Life Lessons?”
“You make art because you have to, because you’ve got no choice. It’s not about talent, it’s about no choice but to do it.”
That’s kind of how I feel.
Nada Gordon consists of a head, neck, torso, two arms and two legs. Since reaching adulthood, her body has consisted of close to 100 trillion cells, the basic unit of life. These cells are organised biologically to form her whole body. She is the author of Folly, V. Imp, Are Not Our Lowing Heifers Sleeker than Night-Swollen Mushrooms?, foriegnn bodie, Swoon, Scented Rushes, and, just off the presses, Vile Lilt. She blogs at ululate.blogspot.com, the initiatory sentence of which reads: “The impulse to decorate is, as always, very strong.”