Subsistence Equipment by Brenda Iijima
(Faux Press, 2008)
Brenda Iijima's poetry is full of the kinds of accidents and incidents, framings and skewings of same that give me hope for the future of the art, that give me hope for the future period. This is brilliant, difficult work. Subsistence equipment, for sure.
Subsistence Equipment is a chapbook-length poem that is delivered in stanzas of three lines until the last page where one finds a stanza of 2 lines, a stanza of 7 lines, a stanza of 9 lines, and a one-line stanza. Those variant stanzas follow this one:
Iijima is nothing if not a navigator of the present multi-dementia-zonal moment. Well, that's not very precise and is only partly correct; but it is true to the delirium I feel when I read this decentered, all-over work. It's an environment in which the "city skeletal," the outer urban environment, is one with the "Inner in house enthralled blouses bodice" which "Envelopes physical body." Not to mention mind.
The stanzas are variously notational, instructional, aphoristic, or function as commentary/ segments in fractured narrative(s). This is by no means an exhaustive list of their wily way, those stanzas.
It's a crazy quilt, this poem, of voice and painterly images carried through something like 180 stanzas. I tried counting a couple of times and never came up with the same total. I'm not much of a counter. It doesn't feel counter-intuitive to attempt such measures here though. 180 feels right. A half-circle or possibility of reversal in brackets? Vortices?
I would love to interview Iijima. She seems like a pretty pure synethesiast to me. Her stanzas roil through all of the senses and many of the follies of our late capitalist malaise:
Stereoscopic project facility
Hollyhock bolt the sky still holds vituperators
Martin Luther King Junior, the polis, haven or lawn
This is a poet who never lets up, whose work's value I can only hint at, who is relentless in her laying bare of our psycho-cultural home turf. I want to read all of her work. Maybe then I can myself begin to write.
Who'd be foolish enough to give up
Loving women as a storm impales a gaze
Th is form will become norm predation ease
Relapse irk ooze substantiate
Delicate tower of flesh
Harvest diskette docket wild unsubstantiated desire
Shall we want to fuck
Kindly move these Christmas cacti
The gesture of separating "Th is" so, phonemically, is characteristic and recurs. It's an example of how attuned BI is to the sonic/conceptual landscape of this -scape obsessed poem:
If I were a real, tenured, certified and celebrated poet-critic I'd have some way of locking this all down, some way to make it all more digestible and understandable. But this is a gloriously unassimilable text which I will return to for a long time to come.
Subsistence Equipment is a very good chapbook, resistant writing of the best kind. Please consider reading it. It just might make you reconsider what a poem can be. It just might make you wonder where you are. And maybe--I don't know--despite our best efforts, that is the most a poem can do.
Tom Beckett is the author of This Poem/What Speaks?/A Day (Otoliths), Unprotected Texts (Meritage Press), and the curator of the E-X-C-H-A-N-G-E-V-A-L-U-E-S interview series (Otoliths). He is currently working on a year long conversation-in-writing with Geof Huth.