going blooming falling blooming, Brenda Iijima (Delete Press, 2013), Reviewed by Kate Schapira
It’s usually disparaging to call a poem “obvious”, but why? Poems, both poets and others often assume, say things that can’t be said directly and remain true. One implication is that anybody who could say it another way would. But when something is inescapable, filling the whole horizon, a poet may feel compelled to say it in every way possible. The poems in going blooming falling blooming are obvious in their statements’ meanings and in the nature of their lens: “Stealth is shifting capital and don’t you know / this requires violent gestures, thus the body has been / anesthetized …” They’re also obvious in the patterns of social and environmental destruction they’re talking about. Many contemporary poets try to counteract or infect this blatancy with complication; Brenda Iijima meets it with a blatancy of her own. The poems in going blooming falling blooming are studded with language as environmental as styrafoam in the storm drain—accumulating, mutagenic, deadening: “We’ll have that grilled up and running—a happy meal // You’d like to succeed at business? What business? Does it / involve numbers, earthmoving or rhetorical display?” The nouns here thrown together (flowers, soldiers, mountains, caskets) seem each to mar or interrupt the previous one. They force on us the ruptures in our own lives, in particular the ways that war as a presumed, ongoing state constantly interrupts and is interrupted and interrupts again. The poems obsessively enact intrusions and exhaustions, sometimes to the point of chaos; they enter zones of near-echolalia (“Small // sensors, sorry, my ass assigns, assassinator sorry kill which”). These showcase the deterioration of meaning and its substitution with sound, catchphrases that surround and derail our minds: “thinking is flooded by thinking as day drones on” in “a cultural performative bodily cavern.” The conflation of individual body, civic body and ecological body (as well as of bodies living and dead) is rampant throughout this book and may even be its driving force. Meaning itself is deadened by misuse: “Concrete machinery disabled open freeing / meanings, deadness, a walkthrough neckline struggle.” Being free has been corroded by the ways it’s deployed politically; meanings here seem “freed” from obligation, connection, and responsiveness. To be responsive, in law, is to “reply to the merits of the allegations raised by an opposing party”—to answer the question that someone actually asked. Responses to these states of war and degradation in the aforementioned bodies—political responses, but also those in art, individual action, and language—are not responsive. They are answering the wrong questions, and thus their answers are either passively or actively destructive. Especially in the earlier poems, there’s a combination of passivity and effort—a restless, useless racing in place: “Veins of oil piped to our standards // of living with red matter, each equivalency an oblivion chamber”, obsessed with its own helplessness as well as with the structures that render it helpless. Everywhere we turn, something else is unavoidably, interdependently wrong. Further on, the poems use more imperative constructions and insist on the action their predecessors seemed determined to paralyze. A chorus admits plaintively, “It’s just that we know the state will show no mercy / when we finally stand up,” but a nearby poem not only [abjures] us to “get over the denial state of grief, the bloated / green dog, the rotting mountain, the essay” but tells us what to do instead: “Don’t call it an event. Call it maybe conscious / wager tsunami, earthquake, typhoon, Twin Towers …” Gradually energies begin to stir, not independently of but within the caverns. The reactivation of meaning is in the book’s last lines intertwined with the reclamation of all the kinds of bodies: Perform reclamation on their lawns, acts of disobedience Admonish this closed door institutional brotherhood of power mongers. Go ahead with your bodies … Bring me: I’ll shriek on their lawns to achieve meaning To achieve a meaning beyond their dictated sentences pending Orgy with their bodyguards, patch our neo shanties by their fountains—there are adventures to be had with this social group, we just need to raid the fountains, now The affective cry falls through us as the book ends, calling us to bring the rupture home to its prime movers, to land the makers of death-dealing robots, banking systems, and other forms of remote-control destruction with the results they hoped not to have to see.