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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Brenda Iijima's poetry book "'ll-ution"

This book is intense, has a tremendous momentum, and is at times hilariously funny. The most obvious example of the latter are some photographs taken of stuffed animals and placed in natural settings. She says of her mother who appears in one such photograph, "The only animal perceptible in this photo is Erika Uchman."

This brings to the fore one of the central concerns of this book; the way there is, on one level, no interaction between humans and nature because we are nature and everything we do is, on one level, "natural." It also teases out some of the complexities of how nature and artifice interconnect, interfere, and hurt one another. This is a book concerned with "mending" the earth. At times Iijima does not shy away from even using scientific statistics to help with her themes.

The poetry is something else. It is taut, tight, and has little extraneous. Some poems are mostly lists of rhythmically and aurally powerful words. Others feature long, sometimes broken up lines that retain the intensity, just in a different way. The poetry is so full of energy it leaps off the page and, for me at least, grabs me wholeheartedly. In addition, to hear her read on youtube, the intensity is immediately evident, but the crowd does not seem to respond to her humor -- such as the unabomber being fed dehydrated mash potatoes in his supermax prison.

This is a poetry of the local, how we interact in a variety of ways even with dirt. It is also poetry of the earth and the sky. Everywhere, however, Iijima insists on the intersection of human with nature. There is never one without the other, at least not now, when every tree seense either to have been planted or to have been allowed to live because of a choice on the part of people.

This is difficult poetry that tries to articulate the almost inarticulable — that space between the natural and language where we can see what an aspect of nature is, including our interaction with it, only with the most careful parsing of words, and only for a glimpse.

This book, full of generosity of spirit, takes a multi-faceted and multi-various approach to the ways language, human culture, and nature interact in complex ways. Her language manages to offer glimpses of this dynamic that actually get beyond the language a little bit. At times with her writing I felt as if I left the poem partly behind and encountered a phenomenon of real clarity. This I can say of very few other writers.

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