A review of

A Fiddle Pulled from the Throat of a Sparrow

by Noah Eli Gordon

Central question: Can sense and nonsense, melody and dissonance, together make a single work of art?
Format: 88 pp., paperback; Size: 6" x 9 ¾"; Price: $14.00; Publisher: Green Rose/ New Issues/ Western Michigan University Press; Editor: Herbert Scott (1930–2006); Print run: 2,000; Book design: Alynn Ramoie; Typeface: Sabon; Names in sequence entitled “Book of Names”: Bernadette, David, Rebecca, Mark, Michael, George, Cy, Hölderlin; Representative consecutive titles from this book: “a point of view apart from a personal embrace,” “to map the wearing away of things”; Representative sentence: “continue to the next page & ignore what’s behind the curtain / the imperative’s wax center & a magnifying glass held to the sun”

It’s not true (despite Walter Pater’s quotable claim) that all art aspires to the condition of music. It is true, though, that if your art involves language—if you are, for example, a poet—and you avoid consecutive, propositional, discursive, so-called prose sense, you might want to find in music some analogies and models that explain how your art can cohere. You might seek the naturalness of wordless birdsong, or the unfolding arrangements and meaningfulness-without-representation of much “classical” orchestral music. You might even want poems with a little of both. That goal seems to explain Gordon’s title; it also describes a good deal of his book’s success.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Stephen Burt

Stephen Burt teaches at Harvard. His new books of poems are Parallel Play and Shot Clocks: Poems for the WNBA. His book about modern poetry and adolescence, The Forms of Youth, is out now.

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