Round About Seeing
Meredith Quartermain reviews
We begin the voyage with a distinct image of a ship at sea. Thereafter the reader becomes a ship at sea, pulled back and forth with wave-like insistence between seeing seaside images and seeing wordscapes. We are washed into the Seychelles Islands, round the Cape of Good Hope, into the north Atlantic and then through the distant Bering Straits, almost circumnavigating the world, but the world we are in and the locations we visit are linguistic and perceptual. Though in section I we meet branches, trees, doves, flying fish, a black woodpecker, a white tufted flycatcher, blue butterflies, beetles, caterpillars and many other images of the “natural” world, this is not nature poetry. We are constantly aware that “nature” is fabricated for us by assumptions, attitudes and discourses — the “weather” of our consciousness — with which we “see” nature or see anything. Indeed, with careful crosscuts to scientific, critical or other linguistic styles, Iijima keeps the weather hovering threateningly over the animals, birds, earth and water. Thus
Iijima is a master crafter of soundscapes. Waves of sound work quixotically but insistently through echoes, internal rhymes or quirky half rhymes: “of weather/ Further” for instance. Or “plunging, plundering necks in foam/ thrust with wing’s wet.” Or “They all thought they were/ organic volcanic!” “Rubbery bumped up waves” evokes wonderfully both the sound and shape of waves hitting the beach.
mobile waters of the ocean runnels of opaline light
The discussion continues to focus on the skipper, the human in its surround, in which it is submerged, grasping at the sea with a zero or a spade:
exploration — destiny
What does it mean to make a guidebook to wildflowers? The evangelists (iconizers, idealists) move in.
Much of the play in this delightful piece, as well as many others, cannot be extracted and summarized. We ride the crests of the phrasing, awash in textures. “If the creative writer pushes far enough into language, he finds himself in the embrace of thought,” Lorine Niedecker said. Iijima probes deeply into the language that’s thinking us — which is our “Inescapable/ Landscape.” She also makes clear that it’s a landscape/ languagescape of global capitalism, suggesting market fluctuations are a sort of “pure organism” in a world of “growth/ decline” and “Steel/ Iron/ Plastic/ Concrete.”
suburb and city
The potentialities in language are never forgotten, however, as her ingenious play with “spring” and “field” reminds us. The problem of human destructiveness is as much as anything a linguistic one: “Names abstract each destruction/ Bright creatures of indifference . . . . Each message confesses tolls.”
For a mile and then some and four hours spent.
We examine city planning, stop signs and parking lots with the eye of an alien. These are not remembered places, but abstracted ones, located in the one-size-fits-all “Civic ideal” of western capitalism. We visit a state penitentiary (though not without humor: “You must know of this pent-up feeling”) which turns out to be The System (capitalism, language, culture, whatever) that’s imprisoning us. Water re-emerges as an issue in a system with built-in inequality of access to pure water; a few have dishwashers and most have a town pump or a hole in the ground. This is a system that leads to a general thirst for some other civil mode:
Brackish, contaminated impossibility for lavish prosperity
The section ends with a nifty encyclopedia passage entitled “Home for manhandling/ Bone,” on how to bend bones into various shapes. Placed next to a Thesaurus entry showing various shapes and forms of “Rock,” the piece leads us to consider human culture as manhandling. In a ratio of expanding connections Iijima juxtaposes this with the means and result of manhandling: “Nerves: Learning: Social repertoire: Migrating herd of wildebeest.”
a cyborg and a teleological telephone
Heading upwards through thinner and thinner atmosphere before a “membrane crash:/ deep within the gizmo” brings them back to earth, the pieces in this section glimpse bits of ancient history and mythology from a vehicle (which is always the word itself) haunted by the gas-guzzling automobile:
Dead in an empty
Deadness is being trapped in a word or a book; aliveness is navigating something as open as sky or ocean, or even language itself.
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