Wednesday, August 31, 2005
A few poets were asked how they feel about Brenda's poetry. This is the collection of their replies, many thanks to those who participated.
"A sentence can't handle this fall." That is Brenda Iijma's latest summary of her position, from a section of a recent manuscript entitled "Tertium Organum," after P. D. Ouspensky. "Fall" has all the mythic resonance of the Biblical story and expresses Iijima's sense that she is writing out of/to a fallen condition. But for this Wittgensteinian Steinian who inherits the German language through her family background, Fall is also the "case" that is the world of Wittgenstein's Tractatus: Die Welt is alles, was der Fall ist ("The world is everything that is the case."). Iijma's insistence that the sentence can’t handle this world points to later Wittgenstein, philosophically, and to the Objectivists, poetically. Language is inadequate to represent the world, but in poetic language we can sometimes catch the fleeting presence of the world in its music, its movement. The musical quality of Iijima's work distances it from Language poetry, ties it to a lyrical tradition with ancient roots. Its primal nature is suggested in the image of the ocean that is Iijima's image for the world that escapes the sentence: Around Sea, not About Sea, is the title of her first trade publication.
Here is a stanza from Around Sea:
A numeral like zero
holds the world up.
But water itself
goes way down, bottom
of the bowl.
The human world is upheld by signs, but signs themselves, vessels of meaning, float on "dark oceanic / doubt," as Iijima calls it in an earlier poem, "Believe" (from Person (a)). In contrast to the uplift of signs, water’s fall leads to a natural world, the world that cannot be contained in a sentence, though the impossibility of saying that uncontainment is discovered in the shape of the bowl that Iijima limns as false bottom of the abyss. We cannot read this world, but we can hear it in the depth of the vowel "o" that echoes throughout the stanza’s closing lines, in contrast to the consonant "l" that persistently marks sonic boundaries in the opening lines and at the very end of the stanza, in the "l" of "bowl." What is lost in the sentence might perhaps be recovered in sentience, if somehow we could feel the world "strange and un- / bridled" (Around Sea), not "clogged with familiarity" ("Tertium Organum"). Iijima struggles to break up the jam of log(o)s:
Register fuzz, miasma
Wobble jammed orchestration
Detonates sounds to brood and oxidize candor
Little animal hides one at a time
No, mask like motions of totality troubling game
River clogged with familiarity
River circuits, sentience, river sentience
In the mission statement for Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, Brenda Iijima describes her editorial process as, "I look for the utmost realization of the felicity of language. Urgency. Gorgeousness, lushness—most often sensuality and splendor additionally. Emotionally and politically loaded." This statement indicates the high level of pride and care Iijima takes in both the books she produces and the poems and artwork she creates. In the essay "INCLOSER," Susan Howe asks, "Does the printing [of a book] modify an author's intention, or does a text develop itself?" In Iijima's case, text and book co-develop, art melds with word, image with language, tangible with oratory.
Meredith Quartermain describes Iijima as a "master crafter of soundscapes" and recognizes that in an Iijima poem "the potentialities of language are never forgotten." I would agree with these statements and add that Iijima is also queen of turning verbal to visual. In "Viewed from the Sea," she begins "2" with the line "yielding foliage as an idea," a unique enveloping of a visual word like "foliage" with active, more cerebral definers. Foliage goes beyond visual, beyond beauty, to an active ponderance.
In Around Sea's "A Poem for the Land," Iijima writes, "Telling this/ is like being/ tied to a tree/ in the garden." In these four short lines, Iijima sets up an entire scene and then subverts it. The image of a person as tied to a tree is somewhat familiar, but the addition of the garden image alters the entire poem. It is as if each word and line break are so carefully thought out, that every syllable in these poems resonates both in the eyes and in the mind. In "2," she strings together one word stanzas of odd pairings, "Seersucker/ Briefcase/ Sacred/ Animated."
Again I am reminded of Howe's "INCLOSER," and how she writes, "every statement is a product of collective desires and divisibilites." Iijima is able to negotiate between the individual and unique and the universal. As she writes in "ECO QUARRY BELLWETHER," "Only/ Is a quantity." Or, in "Roof Garden," "The claim of this brand is to subvert us/ to ecstasy." Silliman refers to this linguistic phenomenon in these poems as "the language that follows every "unlike."' And, when a vocabulary becomes new, a reader becomes submerged. And, this immersion in a familiar reborn is one to read again and again.
Brenda Iijima's Around Sea is a poem that's a collection of numbered pieces—not to be described as a sequence, since the word "sequence" implies a transpiring in order. If one mixed up the numbered pieces composing Around Sea to read them in a different order, reading would be altered—yet the gesture of Iijima's text, or any of its parts, is not an unfolding occurring in its sequence. Neither the whole, nor a piece of it, goes forward or back, is vertical or horizontal, as movement of narration or of perception.
The words in Around Sea are locations as such, and therefore spaces, without describing any location. They are thus "unlike" something else. Apparently Iijima traveled and the text reflects her actual movement at some time, but without referencing her movements or life. The use of many gerunds creates a sense of action being only in a present continually. One piece or segment (#1 on page 23) is a collection of 'unlike this' 'unlike that,' adding "Even now" as if to say 'even at present' is unlike 'it'. Even the present is unlike the present and/or is unlike what words are, hers or any. Or: even after time has gone by, the words are unlike their objects or any memories which are their referents.
There are no thoughts or few thoughts in Around Sea, in that there being no locations, only words—the sense that words are devoid of complication by being an outside (as if words were the objects they cite, and are seen as never to be that), not reflecting the mind except as action or movement of it, but not being it—allows the mind to rest as one is reading, rest from constructing as imagining. Brenda Iijima's own mind, also, is not the subject, is noticeable only indirectly as a mind-action of play and things being placed together. For this reason, Around Sea is not only restful but there is a sense of clear sight of an aspect of an 'outside' that we cannot see in any other way. And which would change if this were 'technique' or a 'mode' that was repeated.
If a thought or feeling is arising in Around Sea it is arrived at in reading as moving through sensory as spatial juxtapositions: as in the following first eight lines of #7, in which reading what are then (after reading the third line) judged (by the reader) to be posted signs, is followed by, but simultaneous with, "mesmerized"—which is followed by, but related to, knowing (which references feelings of other people who are not either the viewer or the reader):
Mesmerized:             razorlike fencing
Magnification of the combination             look up at the sky
Through oculus slot              A lock
State penitentiary                       PANOPTICON STAR
You must know of this pent-up feeling         (#7, p. 47)
Brenda Iijima's way of making no mind imposition on occurrence, yet the occurrences having a word order (as if an occurrence is 'found'—as, what it actually is—by the line or word order, while the words are unrelated to, in the sense of do not render, describe or narrate, the occurrence) is I think akin to Larry Eigner's work, at least Around Sea is.
NATHANIEL A. SIEGEL:
If you stay over with Brenda she will make you a comfortable place to sleep. You can drift off to sleep thinking of sea shells stacked and photographed. You will want to look at everything in Brenda's home even the plaster is of interest. In the morning tea and juice and sunshine talking about let's see…the conversations are immediate fresh green ripe like vegetables please remember to eat right I am concerned about you. Brenda makes stuff the collage for a chapbook "you made that!" Her offspring take many forms take is wrong word MAKE poem MAKE reading MAKE dance MAKE vest MAKE book. Her companionship sits attentive present and restless-active- mind equal heart HER NATURE ocean rhythms HER HARK call advance in every direction connection PROTECTION ENVIRONMENT protection freedom PROTECTION OPEN SPACES and coverlets for dreams!
Friend note: this sentient sentiment is mailed post-haste time "I love Brenda in gold !"
Just a few pages into Brenda Iijima's Around Sea I knew that I was in the presence of a poet who comprehends both the luster and the multi-dimensionality of words. Iijima is a Word Worker, a facet of being a Poet that not every Poet values, or is able to so directly access. Her sonic dexterity has often been noted and extolled, but there is also a tandem graphic quality produced by her anagrammatical logic that inundates a reader's senses: cypress becomes papyrus, partaking becomes parking, gestures become lovers become flowers and sister becomes sinister. When patio becomes ratio, a shift so undemanding, yet disarming, I feel realigned with my reptilian brain. Lacking language, its impulses are instinctual and ritualistic. Iijima participates in the ritual of making a community of words that move us.
Every Word & Every Character
Was Human according to the Expansion or Contraction, the Translucence or Opakness of Nervous fibres such was the variation of Time & Space…
Rereading Around Sea caused me to reread Blake, whose lexicon has been the topic of many studies. Iijima's text, like Blake's, insists that we meet and attend to words in their vertically fathomless force field. Iijima is also a visual artist and if you are familiar with the books she makes at Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs you may wonder how she might illuminate her own texts. I'm thinking in particular of her herbaceous illustrations of Jill Magi's Cadastral Map as well as the creature quagmire enriching Roberto Harrison’s Mola.
Congratulations to you Brenda! for being a prolific writer and publisher, and bows to CAConrad for conducting these celebrations of poets.
BRENDA IIJIMA online:
from THE EASTVILLAGE.COM
listen to her read on LAVAMATIC.COM
Meredith Quartermain's review of AROUND SEA
from THE BROOKLYN RAIL
from ART IN AMERICA (with Jack Kimball)