Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Questions by CAConrad
"Bike through emollients bite the thickness
In a mouth"
--Brenda Iijima, from AROUND SEA
Brenda, your book AROUND SEA has tones, not in a descriptive sense with your words, but actual ringing tones in the reading of these poems. They tone up to tune up. From my reading, your bigger message seemed to hit me at "page ninety-one". Or a new look and listen I should say at the poems as a whole. It's here you invoke The Scientific American Cyclopedia of Formulas, 1921. The process of building an actual mirror, from the silver and/or other metals, to the warning of how access to air will corrode if one process is taken over another.
The reader here is forced into the nearest bathroom to contemplate molecules and their reflections, and maybe more important is digesting the responsibility of the power of reflection in general, asking to find the break in the path behind the mirror itself. It's this page where your hawk carries us out, so to speak. Suddenly it's not so much the question about the mysteries of the world but the mysteries of our Selves which block the mysteries of the world, and, every, one, and, thing.
Asking, how could we BE HERE and not know the importance of every sustaining, living being beyond our human family? It's here that previous pages become newly seen epiphanies, like,
"And the Magellanic Clouds
NGC 598 familial extension
'cause we're so pale
half the time
elliptical cup of laughing gas"
Capricorn is the advanced Earth sign. It is the last island before air and water take the zodiac home. How do you as a Capricorn see poems as your Land, the AROUND SEA as spiritual tool for some awareness of WHO WE ARE in the race to preserve this world?
I am a Capricorn goat (goat is ascribed to the lunar year in which I was born, so I am a double goat)—a conflicted sign—because at least half of my being is given to capricious joyousness, the other is involved in diligent, goal oriented struggle. The diligent side of my being is winning over, joyously because if there are contentious struggles going on that represent crises of magnitude; it is where I want to dedicate my energies—as a poet—as a civic individual. Just this morning it was reported on the radio that the reputed Klansman accused of participation in the murder of three civil rights activists is now being retried, 40 years after these crimes was committed. Edgar Ray Killen's trial came to a false stop when a sole jury member found it impossible to find an ordained Baptist minister guilty of such a crime. It has taken Philadelphia, Mississippi this long to formulate the most remote form of justice. Destructive forces move with such velocity and almost unhindered. It is puny to announce that I want to work for the resolution of these and other such issues. Writing's capacity is immeasurable and can't be sated.
Art for art's sake is a triviality when imminent matters express duress. When I write (what's seen to be) in an experimental mode, I don't feel that language is merely servicing my ideas—these meanings, rather language is acting holistically with the world that engenders it. The writing—to be vital, fecund, generative seems to need to participate in the world, not in a vacuum governed by cleverness, superficiality and solipsism. Entropy is the culmination of such institutional verse operating on aesthetic concerns alone. The effect is to tranquilize. Poetry that pursues its own lingual bonanza as a witticism seems formulated with cynicism and embedded in a fin de siècle stance I consider gratuitous. I never feel I am writing out of or in opposition to the New York School, Language Poetry—however these modes of writing are parsed and termed, etc., rather what can be present in all classification of writing—a disregard for tangibility. I can't fault philosophy or theory on these terms, after all they are exercises in showing the tangibility of language's existence, its experience, its relationships, its connectedness being-in-the-world. Philosophy justifies this position as best as it can. Language can't fly away but it can falsify. There seems to be such a proliferation. I am interested in language that has an anticipatory quality. Otherwise it seems insidiously dead on arrival. Plastic in the undesirable sense. Equivalences are not what they seem to be!
Language can be stubborn as it advances glibly while dulling itself as it is made to express the status quo or quotient gesture that immediately separates from the individual transcribing such a statement—multiplicities and nuanced specificities get denuded. The vitality of representation gets completely stranded when it is given over to bulwark symbol and prefabricated stunts of conceptual or categorical standpoint. I am interested in perceived boundaries, thresholds, their insistences. Phases too. AROUND SEA is partially a study in how language dissipates and reactivates—psychically, physically, theoretically, etc.,—manifold potentialities encompassing and stretching outwardly toward, beyond the usual vanishing points, permeating without finality. I hope there is an expansiveness about AROUND SEA. And that it is shakable—being presently shaken. Yes, I pondered scale, proportion.
Brenda, some of how your AROUND SEA challenges reminds me of John Muir saying, "When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitches to everything else in the Universe." And so soon after Muir's gift to us all by helping preserve the land and trees, we are faced with our present government's total disregard of Muir's legacy. You have been doing your part in helping fight the Bush administration's allowance of commercial logging within the boundaries of the Giant Sequoia National Monument. It's almost incredible that it could even be possible that land Trusts are being breached. Please tell us about your petition to Forest Service Chief Dale Bosworth, and what's the progress report of stopping this madness?
In an effort to prove that there isn't consensus about the many blatantly destructive policies that are being proposed and forwarded concerning the environment I decided that I had to respond with a personal letter of plangent protest to as many issues as I possibly could—still this didn't seem enough. I came upon the idea of mass producing a personalized letter and calling it instant petitioning. I hand out letters within the various communities I belong to. The recipient of the letter need only send it in the envelope I have provided. The contact feels excellent. It is a vital exchange. On the average I am able to generate 200-1,000 letters regarding a specific issue. My goal is to concentrate on at least four pressing issues a month and to make sure that the correspondence reaches representatives who could actively address the situation at large. I am hoping that others feel renewed energy to speak out (or is it up?) and that this information gathers people with commitment to press for environmental considerations (in the very least). I am hoping that this approach curbs the sense of beleaguerment. This project has helped me become more fluent in how this government operates and I feel the functionality of the individual, so long as enough individuals aren’t acquiescing by not expressing something constructively to their elected officials. Lobbying groups that hire lawyers to challenge various dubious situations are excellent antidotes, but I do believe that individuals should also endeavor to bring concerns to the attention of their elected officials (who have office hours, email addresses and mailing addresses for precisely this interaction). The environment is a common denominator. Without its health all other concerns are moot. I am not naively excited, but I am infused with passion and increasingly more knowledgeable about the environment and what it means to protect it. It happens not to be it, rather it is us and all the myriad beings that have us as their care takers because how can an animal challenge a human. Rhetoric has no place in these letters. This is language with a motivation for survival. If you'd like a packet of the current spate of letters going out, please email me: email@example.com
Brenda, what was your process in writing AROUND SEA?
My initial impetus was to try to present environment without human intervention—a ponderous impossibility. I couldn't conjure landscape without the bracketing of language because of language’s formulation and construction—how it has been used to engage in the world. I wanted to see within symbols given to the land as representation, to place these recordings of setting upon, naming, coding, acquiring in contrast to land—all that is—environment—nature. To spin these systems. To match deliberation with deliberation. Each naming occasion was as much an occasion for intrusion/invasion however mild it appeared. Mostly violent and acquisition driven. Reclaim the land for the land. Acknowledging the uses of language—rhetorical forms. I set out to familiarize myself with every discovery narrative—a genre with a very pointed political goal. The double bind of exposure. And the sort of double blindness of cataloging and intellectual knowing. Fractal encounters created this conglomeration and outline with pock marked holes and other features.
What poetry are you working on now, and what can you share with us about it?
I am acclimating and regrouping (directly) after the experience of writing ECO QUARRY BELLWETHER. Presently I am in transition. Other projects continue on but having spent the better part of this year in process with ECO QUARRY BELLWETHER I guess I’ll mention a few resounding intentions I had and however much of its sense I can convey without resorting to exegesis.
The manuscript consists of four pillar-like sections buttressing a vision of sensuality and political discourse. I wanted to present a simultaneity of the political interplaying with vatic, multifarious, careening, incompressible language of the environment which is experienced sensually. A breakthrough occurred the night I was fortunate enough to hear back-to-back readings by Nicole Brossard followed by Alice Notley (at two separate venues—I dashed from one to the other by taxi, barely in time). Nicole Brossard read with complete dedication to the emotive, sensual interactive realm of the mind melded with registrations of desire manifested in feelings. This came across as daring, rare and utterly beautiful. Alice Notley read work fervently, as if she was an emissary from a camp of Trojan women, giving prophecy, warning of the ramifications actions have—fiercely, boldly, incredibly searing in her proclamations. Their voices felt very present to me while writing of this document. Waves of confidence flooded me. I realized this manifestation by ushering intermittencies, unruly variables, careening, wild, open language—as much receptivity as can be conjured. Although I feel myself to be an autonomous self, evermore, with the realities of total global environmental duress and the arising of a kind of totalitarian media domination coming out of a glutted global commerce run by a few magnates and supported by law, I feel this tumultuous unruliness in opposition to this. No way can I bar myself from this avalanche of steely power pushing for domination only to bring on more chaos. I should itemize the various degrees of this and how it is being played out—I will in a forthcoming essay! Meanwhile there is the array and disarray of words and their meanings and logic that sticks residually sometimes dubiously to semblances of words, phrases. Previous work felt like I was hovering. Now I am surging and plunging and also wrestling. But I wish I were swimming.
Brenda, if you were given the opportunity to spend an hour as a visiting poet with a group of high school kids who are interested in poetry, and you could say, ask, do nearly anything you wanted, how would you spend that hour?
Anything to avoid dogmatic recitation and boredom. Perhaps we would give the funds away (to whoever would need them) on a long walk anywhere—determined by our mutual moods. I am a proponent of a self-study regimen as far as poetry is concerned. Schooling is for those who want to be schooled—need not be the obligatory or ubiquitous way poetry methods and attitudes are acquired. We'd be very much attuned to language in all its uses. And we'd comment on what we saw and said. Sure we'd share our reverie for books. Beyond that I wouldn't plan a thing.