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Everyone’s Talking to Noah Eli Gordon about The Year of the Rooster
Noah Eli Gordon’s new book, The Year of the Rooster (Ahsahta 2013), “is hard to pin down,” as Denver’s weekly Westword has it. “It’s wild and flowing, playing with gender pronouns, musical imagery, and poetic forms to create a thoughtful, vibrant work full of multiple interpretations. At the center is the the rooster of the title, who flits in and out of the work as both a grounding, repetitive image and enigmatic character.” Westword talked with the Colorado-based Gordon about the new book. An excerpt from this conversation:
You use lines from Bernadette Mayer, “A woman I mix men up,” and Alice Notley, “He’s wearing both a dress and pants,” as an intro to the title’s poem that speak to this interesting use of gendered pronouns. What made you want to explore gender in that way?
I think one of the things about perceived ideas about gender identities is that, as Judith Butler says, gender is a performance. It’s a construct. It’s not something that we have to completely buy into. It’s really interesting for me right now because I have a 9 month old girl and I’ve found that it’s almost impossible to avoid already ascribing her to some kind of codified sense of gender just via the clothing that’s available. I try not to actually dress her in anything that signifies in one way or the other, but regardless that then therefore signifies. Which is to say people all the time say, “look at your cute little boy,” because I don’t have her in pink dresses. Initially I would correct people, but then after a while I decided I’m not interested in spending my time correcting strangers about it or whatever. But it spoke to something really intriguing to me and that’s something that the book itself is trying to get at. What happens if we do take these seemingly monolithic ideas about what constitutes the way to live and start to explore them a little bit? What happens if we take all the statues that have already been erected in the park and say, well, let’s see what’s going on with the foundation of this statue? Let’s actually read the plaque and see what this information is. I think partially, too, because it wasn’t something that I had done previously. As a poet I’m always interested in challenging myself, so I think that gender itself was a construct hadn’t entered into my work. So it was like, maybe it’s time for me to do that.
What made you choose the Rooster as a way to explore those themes?
Partially it wasn’t that I chose it as much as it chose me. I can’t even remember where it came from, but at some point this word “Roo” popped up in the writing. If you’re thinking about different notions of masculinity, all of the kind of negative definitions that we can ascribe to it definitely play themselves out in the rooster as this figure of protector or aggression. More or less, the rooster is the ultimate mansplainer. It’s like waking up in the morning saying, “Hey world, let me tell you how it is. The sun’s up. Look at me.” I thought that was a kind of interesting thing to pull apart.
That’s not all, folks. Gordon has also been interviewed by The Austinist! They talk about “mansplaining,” among other things:
You’ve called the Rooster “The Ultimate Mansplainer” which I thought was awesome. Could you go a little further into that?
Roosters don’t simply crow at dawn, which is I guess a misconception that we have, as it’s something that happens continually and constantly throughout the day, as though in fact the rooster is trying to reconfigure our sense of time. Much like that article by Rebecca Solnit that went around in which she talked about “mansplaining,” it’s like the rooster is trying to project himself and his desires and to get his name into the world. It’s a really interesting idea and problem, and it’s something that all males, including the rooster, have to figure out a way to get around.