Amanda Nadelberg, selected by Chris Martin

Introduction to the work
of Amanda Nadelberg

Ted Berrigan famously proclaimed, "I'm only pronouns & I am all of them." In Amanda Nadelberg's first book, Isa the Truck Named Isadore, she was proper nouns and she was all of them. In Amanda's second book, Bright Brave Phenomena, she writes, "All we have is pronouns," but she is mostly nouns and she is still all of them. She's mountains and snow waiting to be shoveled and a field and the picnic and several buttons on each sleeve and the sound of pants and kites and pine cones and an almond and even a nut-suck of feelings. And through it all she somehow remains, "A person, a person / until proved otherwise." Part of Amanda's shapeshifting is made available through the uses of absence: as generative force, as breath's billow, as weather animating the trees, as what's missing fans the flame. We share a concern and respect for weather; whether it's the social fact of "weather always / as something to say" or the humility inherent in "the weather as always in charge" or the bewilderment of "where else is the weather such a / conversation where else does the weather sound so much / like this." When I say the weather in Amanda's work is also feelings, I mean Feelings, like O'Hara writ large but swirling with Stein's syntactical boomerang in hand. And she sees how feelings, when concreted with language, become something transactional. She sees how "these feelings, / awkward as business" break against the armor of thought. In Bright Brave Phenomena, she moves fully into feelings-as-weather-as-tapestry mode, where each swathed stanza plants its colors with the bravado of an Ashbery or O'Brien, but mostly with the quiet honesty of a Nadelberg, "like fabric could be a woman." When she says, "I'm not about / to lecture you on anything," she means, "Honesty is / making up stories and sticking to them." Part of why there is so much quoting here is that Amanda's work bursts with the kind of aphoristic generosity that makes living more tolerable, or at least more explainable. When she gives a feeling its phrase, your chest expands a little, and the hard work of serving time in a fogged-out universe takes on sudden if momentary clarity. A brief, honest window where a lamp turns on for a second before someone at the party you never want to leave smashes it with dancing. I believe in Amanda's manner of honesty. I believe it when she writes: "Of all the perfect gestures, be good at naked." I believe it because we share a belief in mistakes as well. And one of those mistakes is becoming the writer, which happens when you read Amanda's poems. You find yourself in Nadelberg, a small country inside France (circa 1987) where you craft lamps by sealight. She writes: "I'd like to be both of us / at the same time. You / looking here at you."  And (here) you are.

 —Chris Martin

Amanda Nadelberg 

Love the white things the
paper towels the milk the
sky sometimes. Take water
and sand separately into your
mouth. Read them more
times than you really wish to. 
Go to a small box and speak
to the religious attendant of
your choice. A broom will
do wonders. Pick me up
when I ring. Carry these
phone books upstairs your
mother doesn't need to. Feel
this—do you—the vibrations in
my knees. Build two kitchens there
will be less mess than if there is
only one. One downstairs
one up. Tell me what
you're thinking. Please do.


I like living in a place with seasons and it's also important to have seasons in the mind. Seven summers ago I was moving to a new city and on the way a truck drove by that said Isadore Trucking Company and I thought to read a dictionary of names to write a book of poems with names for titles (because I liked making poems more than making titles); like lightning I had a plan. It was really nice to talk to myself in that way in my first apartment, my little orange couch, the free TV access the building provided, writing poems to the lumber yard behind the house. The fridge was as tall as I am and in this post-undergraduate-apartment-mini-false-mfa I taught myself that I was capable of finishing a thing of some number of pages. I didn't yet have much of a community to share things with, (spoiler alert: at least not until the thing was accepted for publication some months later and one of my tallest and now dearest friends welcomed me to a club in which I'd be thrown "from a really large plane with a really tiny parachute") and I don't know if this is an important part but I'm often confounded by which parts of story are significant, narrative climaxes are not for me. So I wrote Isa the Truck Named Isadore and it was published, and I began to write another book, and it wasn't published, and that's important, I know that part is important, and in that process of not publishing I grew new tricks, I grew new tricks and then I went to school.

I went to school and I'm not always sure why people fight for or against school—does it matter—I went to school for Time and to make Friends, and there I found both, and there was also a Nice Grocery Store and I wrote another book. Poetry school wasn't for me when I was 23, but it was for me when I was a little older, and it isn't for everyone but it is for anyone who wants to try it when they're ready and especially if it's free. I made friends who also wrote poems and friends who painted and people had each other over and lots of times there was dancing. 

The unpublished book was made by stitching my own writing to another's, and while that posed "interesting" questions regarding copyright/theft, it was a ball of a time—I loved seeing my own thing I thought I knew change with the introduction of an alien force, voice, form. Entirely, that process changed my process since then. Whole poems rarely any more fall into my lap from the ether, but parts do, and I began collecting lines and pictures and things my mother says and I kept those things in a box and eventually I'd stitch some of them to each other and to real-time writing, and I learned what a title sounds like to me and listened to different kinds of music and after a while of trying that process and becoming comfortable with that process there was a new book, it's forthcoming, I've called it Bright Brave Phenomena.

The most important thing that I know of the last many number of years, however, is something that that tall friend once said to me. He said: if your instinct is X, go against it—and I am indebted to this rebellion of the self against a former self. I've stopped recording so much of what my mother says, and I've been rationing my consumption of French movies and I started listening to other music and I'm tending my notions of vocabulary and I've been writing translations and I've been writing slow and I'm not now writing on matters of the heart and I'm employing more stanzas and my sentences are getting longer these days, along with my hair, and we'll see, we'll just see what else.

* * *

Poem reprinted from Isa the Truck Named Isadore (Slope Editions, 2006) with the permission of the author. All Rights Reserved.




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