If Not Metamorphic
6" x 8", 128 pages, pbk.
Ahsahta Press, 2010
Reviewed by Patrick Dunagan
What’s both difficult and improbable to achieve with poetry these days is any hint of expression towards self-knowledge that doesn’t come across perceived as more or less a sham. Contemporary poetry shelves are densely populated by too much easily-packaged-for-reader-consumption-introspective-gleaning trite. Brenda Iijima’s writing on the other hand is a direct confrontation which playfully and directly engages questions of knowledge of self: what are the connections between perceptions and how they pass through consciousness via the body. This is exploratory writing that offers its rewards as they are come upon, self-discoveries which hold us, revealing us to our selves, active in every sense of the word. Neither self-serving nor bemoaning of uncertainty, Iijima stakes out her position as poet-explorer/inciter facing off against the challenges of a world in constant dynamic shift and does so with courage that refuses back away. Her interest in delving into just what is possible displays a vulnerability that engages by way of its immediacy.
Iijima no more knows where the poem is going than the reader does. But don’t be fooled however, for she most importantly first and foremost is excitingly aware of where she’s at in the moment of writing. Tapping into personal ecological underpinning of human perception via all the senses, the questions asked throughout the multiple sections of the long title poem are insistent, probing the condition of consciousness come aware in its moment.
Iijima is constantly moving within her writing, from out her own consciousness into that of others, thing to thing, jarring expectation of how and what words do, questing her way towards ever further revealing of perception’s foundational perspective.
In the second poem, TIME UNIONS, Iijima resists a narrative drive instead drawing upon the sympathy of sounds between words to spread out a scene of the sensuous pull vowels command upon one another.
There’s a strong sense of landscape explored, possibly lost, and the urge to resurrect and embody it forth.
This looks ahead to the closing poem of the book, PANTHERING, wherein Iijima viscerally imbues the animal swelling of place she felt during a visit to “the last remaining Native American intaglio effigy” as she “rested inside its grassy contours” and “an intense heat radiated outwardly and engulfed” her body. Iijima returns repeatedly to a near Phenomenological rendering of her body’s perception via language, physical as well as mental that is spiritual without any wishy-washy mysticism overlay. She seeks knowledge in the act of writing what happens in writing.
Iijima is all animal: conscious, reflective, thought-probing, provocative animal. She prowls through language of thought and being, every observation leading to another divergence, caught up with itself alive in the moment. Yet such branching explorations don’t lend any sense of sporadic diluting of her initial questing. Her project remains focused and driven, realizing its own work as it explores what is readily known to enter the questionable realm of what might otherwise go by missed.
There’s a return to the physical body as prime substance, and not in any sentimental sense, rather take Charles Olson’s declaration “your body / is to drop / its load” as the project/concern in which Iijima is sharing “I follow you, downward dog.”
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