Jordan Stempleman was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1977. He co-edits The Continental Review, teaches writing and literature at the Kansas City Art Institute, and curates A Common Sense Reading Series.
"With affectionate and funny familiarity, No, Not Today records the thinking that shapes days from within."
"No, Not Today operates through a lovely paradox of dailiness, where, as the title implies, there s always some nagging existential deferral, some little lack finally large enough to make each Tuesday, Friday, Monday feel at once complete as a vessel of feeling, yet one forever seeking that 25th hour."
I experienced a significant portion of these poems for the first time while sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal in my parents’ house during the small hours of the morning. The latter half, with pita at midday. Each poem rang out to me loud and clear, conversational and tangy.
Personally, I’m more disposed to poems that feel like they’re addressed to someone. I’m the type of person who spends a lot of time alone, so when a poem makes me want to shout it out to someone, it’s always a good sign. These poems caught me up, clicked me into orator mode, drove me to read them aloud to the cat, the turtle (who ate the cat, slowly), to my younger brother.
But the magic, the magic. Stempleman’s poems strive to get off the page and into your life. Exhortative, colloquial little things, they want to get up and walk around your living room. Thursday wants to sleep in your son’s bed. Saturday asks if you’ve got any spare condoms, while Wednesday raids your medicine cabinet and hijacks your Ritalin.
But who are they talking to, besides us? For me, these poems seem like they’re addressed to a close friend or lover. Or, if we take them upon ourselves, maybe someone with whom you’ve already gone too far, to the point where they’ve ceased being a lover; someone who you’ve fucked, and then backpedaled. Someone who’s been intimate, like you know a little more than you’ll let on, and to whom you feel all right offering advice. Vicariousness is a strangely powerful thing. We could all be narrators.
On an early Friday, in the once-couple of p. 12, the narrator broods:
Perennial, bad romanticism.
Well, it depends
on who calls who babe.
You wrapped the robot all wrong.
I’m starting to get infected again.
It’s trouble in the second person, wounded domesticity, something interior that’s fallen apart. The next day, they’re in need of a pharmacy. Who’s open late on a Saturday?
This narrator is one who interrupts herself frequently — interjections, for emphasis, to spur the moment, “wait a moment,” “who’s kidding,” “I’ll say it again” — a person trying to impart this wisdom on the reader, but who’s having an extraordinarily difficult time focusing on what he’s saying.
I think I’ve narrowed down where the magic comes from. It’s all about the slippage, the shifts where the normal suddenly transposes with something else, something strange or fantastic or simply unexpected. The interjections foster the shifts, they say, “Hey, I’m talking to you, now let me take you away.”
To elucidate, I’d like to share the first part of a Tuesday with you, from p. 49:
Let alone the beach with its history
of never going too far out, suggests
what attracts us to this land of so much for ordering in
sandwiches for the receptions of our lives, is, on the one hand,
we are never idle because we can lie our way back,
If we peer in really close at this, we might find that it’s constructed of phrases that aren’t content to stay by themselves, little expressions that butt up against one another — a thought comes along and takes the preceding one over, like the Calvin clones that can’t get a word in edgewise because they’re all interrupting themselves. But each subsequent piece doesn’t just take over, it builds off of those around it, weaving them together to form rafts of words and phrases that float out into space.
This, the moment you realize the lazy waves are taking you, the moment you start lying — this is the slippage I’m talking about, the moments of pure magic: in others, it’s the moment the split halves of the head become an instrument, the insects become human-sized, the city becomes a girl, the typing hands become a bird with a stone tied to its leg, when the cat puts on the sweatpants. When you realize the second person is you.
From another Sunday, another favorite, a little piece of magic from p. 64:
Perhaps it’s difficult to understand we’re probably safe
before anything happens. As it is written, even the earliest biplanes
fell through the air, a sky unwanting to be fixed.
For the sky that rejected those planes, that pushed them downwards and into the ocean, the sky that was content to hang uninterrupted over our heads, keeping us safe just by virtue of being there — the poems in No, Not Today are also addressed to us, for me, and for you.