Thursday, March 31, 2011



If Not Metamorphic by Brenda Iijima
(Ahsahta Press, Boise, ID, 2010)

Felix Guattari wrote in Chaosmosis that “The refoundation of politics will have to pass through the aesthetic and analytical dimensions implied in the three ecologies – the environment, the socius and the psyche.” For Guattari “Production for the sake of production – the obsession with the rate of growth, whether in the capitalist market or in planned economies – leads to monstrous absurdities. The only acceptable finality of human activity is the production of a subjectivity that is auto-enriching its relations to the world in a continuous fashion. The productive apparatuses of subjectivity can exist at the level of megapoles as easily as at the level of an individual’s language games. And to learn the intimate workings of this production, these ruptures of meaning that are auto-foundational of existence – poetry today might have more to teach us than economic science, the human sciences and psychoanalysis combined.” I’m reminded of Emerson, who wrote in Nature that “The true philosopher and the true poet are one, and a beauty, which is truth, and a truth, which is beauty, is the aim of both.”

If Not Metamorphic collects four long poems (“If Not Metamorphic,” “Time Unions,” “Tertium Organum,” and “Panthering”), four long “eco-provocations” as Joan Retallack refers to them in her blurb, which I believe constitute in very real ways examples of the kind of productive apparatuses of subjectivity Guattari wrote of.

“If Not Metamorphic,” the opening title poem, lays the epistemological ground work of the volume. It is a text -- composed entirely of questions -- in which, I would argue, all three ecologies come into play. In his important essay, “The Poetry of Questions,” (, Thomas Fink has explored how Iijima in“If Not Metamorphic” radically and eloquently employs “a variety of choices in syntax to ‘interrogate’ what it can be to ask a question. A number of her sentences that conclude with a question-mark otherwise appear to be declarative statements, and several sentences that have the syntax of questions end with a period.” Iijima herself, in an Author’s Statement, writes of this poem “Questions refer to the power of the state apparatus but also to interpersonal subjectivities: civic, imaginative, sensual and otherwise.” A taste:
The deep sea?            A deluge?
The ever-present     dancing     machines
                      Threatened to kill you?
Designed by whom   Designed by whom
Departure it seems,          doesn’t it
                      By the roadside?
Threaten to kill   you?
                      Designed by whom
                      Departure it seems
                      Doesn’t it
A soft, green, beautiful mountain?
The strangling, like anger?
One nude war?            Kelp?
Illusionary?            Encloses the neck?
A snake was circling?
Made virtual?
Made virtual by design?
Threatened            to            kill — design
Threatened to kill?
(page 3)
The second poem, “Time Unions.” is described by Iijima as a vortex within which “are autobiographical details of the year of my birth suspended in a column as well as whirling fragments of cultural detritus. These cultural facts are a sort of DNA sequence.” I’ve never read anything quite like this poem. So many registers are jiggered and jingling. It is a dizzy-making 25 page ride. It’s difficult pulling samples from a work like this. One can only really experience a vortex through total immersion. But here’s some sample stanzas:
Some foxy

plump future


some curvature

horizon hellishness

sooty rain

can’t uncoil

from handmade








(page 43)

Iijima creates language environments, psychic rain forests, conceptual jungles.

The penultimate poem is called “Tertium Organum.” Iijima writes that “Ecological bellwethers and the fault lines of the social are the friction of the piece.” This is the longest of the 4 poems in the volume (over 50 pages). It is comprised of poetic fragments of varying lengths.
           Sex glistened in a theory

slated for production            I has been extricated from

           gesture, endures as a symptom

Representation, your sherrif

           To signify
an ego

(page 62)

Disassembling layers

           we swirl, girls

pledges of surge diaphanous, but also tight to the bodice

           Fine moist pendulum animalia beloveds foreheads

Instead of echo, logos deviations divinations stems, tendrils

           Frequencies, the contact

Water mixes sex
(page 66)

Enigmas with a little breeze

           are titillation
(page 71)

There are wonders to be found on every page. Each page is very much like the compost pile beneath which Iijima finds “The circulatory systems of trees lay here/Bamboo pleasure/showing groin/as sexy as elbow” (page 71).

Sometimes standing before a great work of art, one can only gape, openmouthed, dumbfounded. I often have that experience reading Iijima.
You sway in erasure

           a tiny eclipse by your lips
(page 105)

The final poem, “Panthering,” according to Iijima,“came from an experience in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin. Along rural roadside Highway 106 heading out of town is the last extant Mississippian Indian intaglio effigy mound in the shape of a panther. In the National Register of Historic Places its historic function is listed as landscape and its historic sub-function is listed as garden. Fort Atkinson is named after General Henry Atkinson who served as commander of U.S. forces during the Black Hawk War. History as has been recorded is inconceivably unjust – and works with erasure as much as glorified exposure.”

Again I want to invoke Guattari (adding in a nod this time to his philosophical partner in crime Gilles Deleuze) in the course of reading Iijima as I see the author having become animal in “genocide’s kitchen”:
The black fur coat I was grew forlorn

I couldn’t hide in the snow

Domestication’s velocity stunned

A docile patch of seeming calm

These yellow eyes can’t lie

Like war rooms exuding perjury
(page 112)

In If Not Metamorphic the three ecologies (environment, socius and psyche) are parsed and then braided into what I can only weakly describe as a knotty book of fierce and (I suspect) enduring interrogative beauty. It is, I believe, important both poetically and philosophically. I will return to it often.


Tom Beckett is a network of uncertainty that resides in Kent, Ohio.


EILEEN said...

Another view of Brenda Iijima’s IF NOT METAMORPHIC is offered by Harry Thorne in this issue GR #16 at

EILEEN said...

Another view is offered by Fiona Sze-Lorrain in GR #17 at