Thomas Fink: Our focus is Brenda Iijima's new book, revv. you'll—ution (Ann Arbor, Chicago, Olympia: Displaced Press, 2009). Let's begin with the title and titles. "Revv": revving an engine to get somewhere and make pollution? "Revving up" one's revolutionary action (i.e. ecofeminist), as in "you'll" take responsibility to put your energy toward a sustainable future? And then we have the boldfaced titles adorning pages or sections of the book: the interspersing of "rev," "raw," and "this is this," with other, non-bolded titles frequently underneath. Would you care to help your readers contextualize all this?
Brenda Iijima: One way to explain the title is this: when I started working on revv. you’ll—ution I was simultaneously reading texts that have to do with prehistoric civilizations and the contemporary process of recovering social history through archeological practices—books like André Leroi-Gourhan’s Prehistoric Man, Frank C. Hibben’s Digging Up America and George Bataille’s The Cradle of Humanity. Also on my reading list were books about revolution: The Black Jacobins by C. L. R. James, A Genealogy of Resistance by M. Nourbese Philip and The Many Headed Hydra by Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker. My writing took the form of spelunking retro emergence as evidenced in homo sapien roots, cave people, burials, excavations, quaking under layers, body sensing and incarceration, etc. by filtering through the concept of revolution with all its varied implications. The intensity of how a fragment of a simple domestic object, usually mundane or a swatch of something acts as a vital clue in understanding what early life for humans involved. I began to think about how, during our present times, we are digging up remains with great care and much contemplation while also dumping epic amounts of our personal consumer waste (as well as industrial waste), and this waste is going unexamined. Staggering amounts of toxic waste—the notion of disposability has become so prevalent, the norm. Of course, it is obvious that nuclear waste is detrimental, but what about seemingly innocuous things; anything becomes a problem when we “dispose of” it. Are we not performing a sort of collective genocide with our dumping of processed substances? How are we as humans taking stock of what we cast aside? How are we mutating out of and into? I’m interested in rejected ideologies, ideas, conventions, modes of doing that accompany these conglomerated masses of material. Then there’s the digging through the rubble of catastrophe, a blend of human beings and nature acting in tandem to create disasters like those that occurred (are occurring) in Haiti and the Gulf Coast.
The cobbled together word, revv. you’ll—ution conjures for me the sonic impression of a whirlpool: a swirling together of the detritus that floats along until it tangles together forming a new mass. The revving up or acceleration of these pressing issues of the environment have immense social consequence, the you’ll, or how you—meaning everyone, every citizen-person with a will, what will she, he, zie “do”—what actions will take place as resistance or as daily existence. The book attempts to cobble together social agency. “Ution” is a suffix that beckons multiple interpretations. The following words in English have this ending—it's important to see them:
ablution, absolution, adlocution, advolution, allocution, antipollution, assecution, attribution, caution, circumlocution, circumvolution, collocation, comminution, consecution, constitution, contribution, convolution, counterrevolution, destitution, devolution, dilution, diminution, dissolution, distribution, distributution, electrocution, elocution, evolution, execution, exolution, exolution, imbution, imminution, incaution, inexecution, insecution, institution, interlocution, intervolution, involution, irresolution, locution, malexecution, nondistribution, noneecution, nonsolution, persecution, pollution, precaution, prosecution, prostitution, reconstitution, redargution, redistribution, reinstitution, resolution, restitution, retribution, revolution, solution, subinvolution, substitution, superinstitution, ventrilocution, volution.
The title signifies a shifting focus while also suggesting interconnectedness and personal involvement. The “rev,” “raw,” and “this is this” are meant to be registers signaling shifts in the way perception is engaged. The This is: This register occurred to me while I was sitting in meditation at a Burmese Buddhist temple across the road from where I live, here in Brooklyn. The Buddhist idea that everything is exactly as it is informed this writing.
Fink: I’m not familiar with that Buddhist idea. Does it come from a particular sutra? Could you explain it further?
Brenda: That last sentence was a gross generalization on my part; I should have clarified! Here I’m simply positing the openness of Buddhist philosophy. That reality is exactly as “is”—in the face of delusions and misrecognitions that arise because desire and sensory cues throw us off—yet sensuality and desire are “is” also, simultaneously. Nagarjuna, in his great text, Fundamental Verses on the Middle Way states, “Everything is actual, or not actual, or actual and not actual. Everything is actual, or not actual.” (18:6-2) This path toward heightened perception isn’t accomplished through judgment, rather, through lived experience. Like Trungpa Rinpoches states, “As far as the warrior’s steps go, there is no defeat at all, there are no mistakes at all. Both positive and negative are the path, the general pattern. Any negative experience which occurs is an invitation or vanguard of positive experiences, as well. It just happens that way” (Chögyam Trungpa, Transcending Madness, Shambhala Press, 113). This “is” is a bountiful condition. “Exactly as is” means to me that presence wholly engulfs us, or we are wholly engulfed by presence which is a continuum of flux. Reality is exactly what we experience but not necessary exactly what we perceive. Contrast this to Martin Heidegger and the complications his work raises. His stance introduces a bold ontological doubt that is very much a Western cultural construct. For example, what he asks in Being and Time, “Is the phenomenon of conscience still recognizable at all, as it “really” is, in our interpretation? Have we not been all too sure of ourselves in the ingenuousness with which we deduced an idea of conscience from the constitution of being of Da-sein?” and he continues on, “If we are to assure ourselves of a way of access that will make such a step possible even for the vulgar understanding of conscience, we need explicit evidence for the connection between the results of the ontological analysis and the everyday experiences of conscience” (289). This “is” is a major subject matter of revv. you’ll—ution. “This is this” refers to the composite nature of “is”. Language is a forcing of conceptual categorization, and these categorizations undergo renegotiation at every psychosomatic linguistic turn.
Fink: There are three photographic essays, shot in your home town of North Adams, Massachusetts, in revv. you’ll—tion. They all have an important narrative component: two involve the proliferation of stuffed animals and a displacement of the beings of “the wild,” and the other is a quasi-reenactment of the violent abduction of a woman in 1982. Your mother and a childhood friend are the “actors” in these photo-dramas. First of all, how do you invest significance in the participation of these particular “actors”?
Iijima: My mom ends up collaborating with me on various projects because she is willing and available—she earnestly dives right in and lends great energy. Working together with her opens up channels of communication about diverse themes and places us in situations that necessitate embodied responses. We break through layers of sublimation by challenging our personal ethics and that line of friction where things differ between us. It is downright provocative for me to engage with my mother in action—it is like a primal need to see her participation. The mysteriousness of the fact that she is my mother begins to unravel.
In this particular series, my mom and I began working on some of the choreography and site specificity for these various intersecting documentary photo dramas when I thought of asking Tammy Fortin if she’d participate also—she was visiting North Adams from San Francisco. Tammy is my childhood friend and we grew up a few houses apart on Notch Road in North Adams. Reading gestural affect through mother and childhood friend is incredibly intimate. It was really informative to see them working together. We feel we have to challenge the constituted world head on. We have performed these gestures since youth—all this circumstance and information in our brains-bodies have accumulated. My newly rekindled friendship with Tammy blasted through the solidified past in paramount ways. There’s a new possibility for ‘site’ and ‘space’ that’s opened up. There is the past, and now there is also the past as we synthesize it. Something to do with the future anterior gets activated. We are out to crack the epigenetic codes of our childhood ecosystem. We are making meanings and lodging them in the earth and in the social surround.
Fink: Could you give an example of this “line of friction” or difference in ethical positions and how it was generative in the process of this collaboration?
Iijima: These are issues that are, of course so hard to talk about and I’d feel accusatory doing so—that’s why it is more holistic to perform this issues. Some of the friction has to do with the accumulated fall out and frustrations of growing up in a very economically depressed town. There was a lot of violence and dysfunction. We tend to argue about how we experienced the poverty and violence. I guess it has to do with acknowledging each other’s lived histories and coping mechanisms and responses. My mother values tough individualism. I find myself clashing with her in discussions we have concerning will and personal responsibility, for example. She takes a less fervent position on environmental issues than I do. Art interventions soften the criticisms and make for more open dialogue across lines as we work collaboratively in an experiential moment. A lot of feelings are triggered when my mother is involved.
Fink: As you shaped the text into a book, how did you conceive of the photographic sections as being in dialogue with one another and with the poetry?
Iijima: Brian Whitener, one of the editors at Displaced Press, offered up this great, open proposal—that I should feel free to engage fully with conceptual aspects of the book, so I began to think of the book as performed space—choreography and notes to/for/with the body. I had submitted the final version to Displaced Press when it occurred to me that the photo work I was doing at the time fit in deeply with revv. you’ll—ution’s motivations. The photos are witness to the words. The words are absorbed by the photos. Entering a different format for the eye changes cognition. And, what is the female gaze? I was (am) conducting simultaneous research concerning women who were murdered in North Adams during the 1970s when I was growing up there. There’s a spillover happening. These concerns couldn’t be held in compartmentalization. For a while I thought the book might become a script of sorts that could lead to the engagement with various sites, and these sites could lead back to the book, but this was too stiff; it didn’t contend with the tumultuousness of the content. It would have felt too abstract and spectral. So the book is a writing with. The municipal landfill is a place I spent a lot of time with my mother during my childhood—she had me sort through trash for materials we could recycle. It pained her to see so much resource being wasted. We’d do this on a weekly basis. Some of the photos were taken behind my parents’ house—land that is state forest, land that contains layers and layers of social history and also direct personal signification. What would be the inverse of exploring?
Fink: The inverse would be im-ploring, if ex-ploring drags with it the historical accretion of coercive social practices involving colonization.
To help you consider my next question, I am going to string together three quotations from the book, taking them out of their complex contexts for the moment:
Suck on that chicken bone, you’ll taste it taste marrow what is tomorrow savory a death. . . . Our teeth are made for root vegetables and legumes (“Raw, the Meaty Meaty Essay” 29)
swelling bloating grinning grimacing collecting
riveting Can you cut back on meat Your teeth
for sinew For vampires and zombies
take a big swig of edible blood and hold it
in your mouth Slowly let the mixture ooze
out of your mouth (at the corners for vampires, all
over for zombies)
Tilt your head back to let it run down your neck,
or just let it drip
straight onto your shirt/chest
‘Tis the season to acknowledge the grotesque (“Rev, Domestic Rainforest” 35)
In a former life I was a cow
and I ate you
Then cows were vegetarians
and human flesh was considered fruit
So be it (“Rev, Liking to Eat Things of Beauty” 75)
I sense that one of the various aims of this book, in concert with a pacifist, feminist, ecologically responsible political position, is advocacy for vegetarianism on moral grounds. That would include vigorous condemnation of meat-eating. Of course, there are many meat eaters in your potential audience—myself included, though the average U.S. diet may make me seem vegetarian by comparison. So how does the poetry use rhetorical strategies that do more than preach to the converted? If anti-meat rhetoric gets the meat-eaters to feel guilty, or outraged at the idea of being deprived of what, for then, is a thoroughly conditioned and intense pleasure or labeled as “vampire” or “zombie” for what they’ve always been taught is ok, or incensed because they believe that some measure of meat protein is important to their health, as some doctors and even naturopaths would argue and then perhaps, in all of these cases, they might eat even more meat. Or is this text not about changing carnivorous lifestyles? Is this something like a Jeremiad that strengthens the conviction of political vegetarians so that they can overcome the negative influence of pervasive pro-meat capitalist advertising? Or, given the linguistic density of the poetry and sonic effects like “marrow” and “tomorrow,” is it mystifying to reduce your project to something so determinate?
Iijima: I feel very strongly that the food industry in the US is cruel, disastrous and unsustainable, and it is making humans, animals and the environment ill. The writing demonstrates me wrestling with these concerns. The critique is something I take personally—I apply to my own life’s practice. In the very least, it is a contemporary document interrogating these concerns through provocative language. I don’t think I’m quite ready and equipped to write a manifesto or some strident and damning argument that doesn’t budge—though of course, there is total urgency and I am aiming to radicalize my gestures. In the meantime, hopefully the writing can avail itself of the spectrum you describe here.
Fink: At CUNY’s LaGuardia Community College, where I’ve taught for almost thirty years, they’ve made Eric Schlosser’s book Fast Food Nation the “common reading” for the next academic year. I’ve started to prepare to teach that book in my composition classes. Reading my students passages from your book might be an excellent complement to Schlosser’s journalistic analysis of the ills of the food industry.
There are many references to war in revv.you’ll—ution. I’m speaking quite literally of conflict among human beings, though one could interpret human conduct toward animals as “war.” An early one, in fact, is a prose-block that provides an historical explanation of the significance of the name “Mount Greylock,” an important aspect of your investigation of your hometown, North Adams, Massachusetts. You present both a Eurocentric record and your own implicitly corrective account of an ongoing war between Native Americans and British settlers (15). Almost twenty pages later, highly specific images of military conflict, not tied to a particular war, surface:
much talk about bleeding, no doubt, that’s what we do best
the body organism bursts with blood water balloon tight
when you are sent to the battlefield received wisdom seems
really obsolete metal superpower molecular vitreous See
posterior eyeball illustration
a buddy’s leg under a military jeep
the wheel turns Body too turns and when
lining up like militant action figures these words
floored me. (33)
This is in no way the territory of “received wisdom” or jingoistic pap; the change from “military” to “militant action figures” helps us to be uncomfortable with the commercial packaging of large-scale violence for child consumers.
And then, close to 40 pages after that, the expression of a desire for an unmediated experience of war’s horrors—or at least a removal from “cosmetic” representation of war and from an “easy chair”—is followed by a reference to the three female U.S. Secretaries of State and a sarcastic revision of a famous phrase by the “Last Poets”:
Take me down to the paradise river
where the war is real
and limbs are severed
Oh won’t you please let me out
Waiting in the perfumed lobby
with the fica plants for Madeline Albright
for Hillary Clinton, for Condoleezza Rice
We apologize that the revolution will be televised
and we advise you to stay put in your easy chair
googling warheads. (73)
Finally, I should note an affirmation of armed struggle against injustice, perhaps stemming from the reading of James’ The Black Jacobins that you mentioned earlier:
note: how (and if) does the Haitian Revolution get factored in when modernism
is considered? a revolution that dealt with racism as well as class divisions. if
modernism (and so, any term to coin the age we are in) is founded on exclusionary
principles, what does this mean? (53)
I’m not asking for a bald sense of the intended political efficacy of your discourse on war, but, as the book took shape, how did you articulate for yourself the significance of war as a thematic motif or the development of your thinking about it? Did this have a great deal to do with your opposition to the Bush II incursion into Iraq, or does the historical sweep of U.S. military interventions (or even world military history) play a more substantial part in what you are working out here?
Iijima: The propulsion and momentum of war is staggering. Of all human endeavors, wars seem the easiest collective effort to set into motion. Despite its collective nature, war signals a breakdown in communication and an inability to compromise. Mental wars accompany physical wars. Wars drive us mad—war is a psychotic state. It (it seems we are perpetually involved in more than one war) demands that we ignore suffering imposed by our state. The human cry is subsumed into the grind of destruction. The goal of a war is obliteration, but ideology drapes banners and slogans over the vocal chords of the warring. Wars squelch interconnection. War is environmental destruction. There are countless abject goals accumulating under the surface of the ideology sponsoring the war. War is a dumping ground for spent nuclear waste. War is protracted illness in the guise of illusionary (or delusionary) strength. War is the lust for resource. War is abject violence that always increases the misery of its participants. Wars dwarf humanity. Wars are hungry monster mechanisms of our own making. Wars are maniacal national sport; they ignite zealous engagement and solidify human mentalities into dull polemic and prescriptive terms: right/wrong, good/evil, wining/losing. Humans are made puny during war, and an effort to protest war in this country is seen as little more than a symbolic gesture—ridiculous to those who believe individuals have lost all agency. We have to challenge political exclusion. I remember reading Robert Smithson’s statement which feels rather quaint. He said, “The artist does not have to will a response to the deepening political crisis in America. Sooner or later the artist is implicated and/or devoured by politics without even trying.” I think it is not a favorable position to simply be swept along…
The anger that Bush II generated within me was coupled with a sense of urgent passion. His tyrannical rule squelched all notions of democratic government. The concept of the Bush administration was one of huge, hellish maneuvers that sought to mutilate to the greatest possible extent. Horrific maneuvers like Shock and Awe. A complete disregard for Habeas Corpus in the form of rendition, torture, unprovoked invasion, etc. The Opinion Research poll estimates that 1,033,000 Iraqis have died since the invasion, though these numbers are contested—as usual, the American public is held in ignorance. The number of US Armed Forces is 4,404 dead and 31,827 wounded as of May, 2010. This isn’t counting media and aid workers, contractors or coalition forces. It made me realize that the counteraction to imperialism’s thrustings is a local, intimate, regenerative, compassionate effort that finds resilience in mutual aid and the honoring of the imagination in a way that fortifies interdependence.
The military and our politicians should be studying how we might live our lives more holistically as a people. Food, energy, space, shelter, culture, human connection, environmental health: needs of everyone. Frans de Waal, the author of The Age of Empathy and Primates and Philosophers: How Morality Evolved, claims that we are as acculturated toward empathy as we are toward aggression, but we live in an industrial-military complex, so war is our economy, our basis. War feeds resources from a general pool (taxes) into individual coffers (the war lords). Bodies are made expendable. The prevalent mode is the disaster economy and a national security state where threats to a civilian population from the “outside” are exaggerated to maximum effect. It is a deliberate concentration of power that keeps war at its finger tips.
I studied how war relates to other conflicts, and how the word “war” is employed: “war on terror”, “war on poverty”, “war on drugs”, etc. But I haven’t heard the phrase, “war on racism”. Is a freedom struggle a war? Are struggles for human justice considered war? These usages seem to come from top administration down. I was probing for a difference of meaning between the concept of war and the concept of revolution. I’m interested in grassroots efforts and revolution is always a grassroots effort.
The relationship that war has with/on the environment is also something crucial to examine. War scars the environment. The tools we make to implement these wars poison the environment and sicken bodies. The ramifications of war percolate throughout the book. A body of work. Our bodies. Are the symptoms of war obvious? How does the fall out of war camouflage itself back into civic life?
An observation made by Susan Buck-Morss in Thinking Past Terror circulates in my mind. This fragment comes from a curatorial postscript she made about inSITE2000, a show that framed itself around art in the age of technical surveillance. She notes,
inSITE2000 produced no new, collective model for public art. And yet there was a similarity in the artist’s ways of working that is visible in retrospect. It had to do with positioning rather than pronouncements. In a surprising number of projects, the artistic gesture was disappearance. Rather than disrupting traffic flows, they joined them; rather than mapping new urban landscapes they blended in; rather than interrupting the syntax of everyday life they sequestered their art within it. The politics of this gesture is not to confront power, not to criticize commodity culture, not to represent submerged identities, but to move so fully into the social field as to be perceptible for a moment within it-before vanishing in the trans-urban flow. One is reminded of earthworks that merge with nature and dissolve. Their transient materiality and non-violent relation to the environment are the same. But when artworks disappear within the specificity of a social site, a protective complicity comes into being. Local publics harbor artists as fugitives, aliens (escapees) from the artworld. Lines of flight. (82)
Fink: Regarding positive wars, Lyndon Johnson in the sixties promoted the slogan “War on Poverty” as part of his “Great Society.” Of course, the escalation of the Vietnam War cramped the possibilities of Johnson’s very worthwhile social programs, which were not merely a continuation of Kennedy’s “New Frontier,” I think, but something much more comprehensive.
As you were writing this book, as you said in your response to my first question, one thing you were studying was a kind of archeology to see how our distant ancestors lived; does this influence ways in which you are developing a critique of industrial and postindustrial irresponsibility—“we have the right to pollute” (38) to the ecosystem? If so, how? Do you see this eco-critique in revv. you’ll—ution as a continuation of the same project in some of your earlier books, such as Around Sea (O Books, 2004), Animate, Inanimate Aims (Litmus, 2007) or a new departure? If Not Metamorphic (Ahsahta) appeared this year; regarding environmental imperatives, do you perceive a connection or a divergence between that book and revv.you’ll—ution?
Iijima: Prehistory refers to a time period when there were no written records, yet soil layers are as descriptive a human/animal archive as our history texts are. As André Leroi-Gourhan states, “To know the rest, our only recourse is to concentrate on the archives of the subsoil and try to read them” (1). I’m interested in how so many branches of natural and social sciences have intersected in order to understand the outgrowth of life on earth. They include paleontology, geology, anthropology, molecular genetics, archeology, linguistics, primatology, biology and palynology to name a few. It is thrilling that poetry can partake in these fields of knowledge also.
Linguistics is the science of language. Linguistics is rooted in phonology and, as people like Roman Jakobson have posited, phonology serves as the epistemological model for all of the sciences of man. So, sound is at the root (something poetry is very much involved with) and takes on the supplement of written language structured by syntax and diction to code its meanings. We read through Rousseau and Derrida that this “dangerous supplement breaks with Nature” (Derrida, Of Grammatology, 151)—but maybe it can also lead humans back to nature/animality. The material sedimentary layers of reality—the buried and hidden past that has vital pertinence to the present—this is a form of meaning. The remains are a buried language. At times I feel that archeology is yet another form of disturbance to the land, another form of displacement. Archeology is after meaning, and meaning is of course, a resource. Part of my engagement with archeology is to make a comparative study with other earth moving activities, like mining and the landscape reconfiguration that takes place for cities to grow and towns to take hold, for humans simply to live. I thought a lot about how humans engage with land. I spent some time reviewing the work of land and environmental artists—what positions they take in regards to their relationship to land, to find out their land ethics.
Anything that is constructed will find its way back into the earth. Ecosystems are systems of absorption and saturation. Every minute repositioning of material has an effect on the total system. I think early humans/animals were aware of this as evidenced by the meticulous way they buried their dead. They seemed to want a delay of the reabsorption process.
All of these books have a connection but also diverge in distinct ways (I think). Form changes significantly as do the valences of meanings. I’m jumping over this question somewhat… .
Fink: As you indicated in the response before last, there are distinct markers of the fact that much of revv.you’ll—ution was composed during the Bush, Jr. era, but does any part of the book reflect the beginning of Obama’s Presidency? For example, would I be wrong to find an allusion to the current administration in the lines, “My time in office will be spent encouraging perfumed interplay/ loosely defined insuring virtual light” (50)?
Iijima: revv. you’ll—ution was written in 2008 almost entirely, definitely anticipating the upcoming election. The suspended animation of that drawn out campaign cycle! There are a few poems that allude to the election and Obama taking office, but there isn’t really an explicit focus. It was written in the atmosphere of the Patriot Act and Guantanamo Bay, the Blackwater mercenary militia, war protests, Code Orange—which we in New York seem to perpetually find ourselves. Toshi, my partner, had the mark of quadruple S on his file for several years. He was traveling a lot and was somehow placed on the federal suspect list. It was an unsettling feeling to know that he might be picked up one day, since, under the Patriot Act, the government can determine anyone to be a suspected enemy of the state—no warrant or prior record is necessary. At the airport, airport security would inscribe a large S with chalk on his luggage and he’d be sent to a special room for interrogation. But this book was also written while all of these new insights into dark matter, dark energy, nano matter and other aspects of quantum physics and neuroscience were coming into understanding. Black holes are holograms! Gravity is an entropic force! I made a loose correlation between dirt and space. For myself personally, I need to conjure ways to thrive in such a tense, politically dubious time. Getting back to Obama’s ascendency—it did feel like something positive was arising out of the ashes, phoenix style. It was very encouraging that he was a community organizer and not tied to corporate interests.
Fink: Forgive me for a touch of sensationalism, but the Unabomber makes an appearance, and he is represented somewhat sympathetically: “His economic doctrine and actions are considered anarcho-primitivism/ A harkening back to Paleolithic times when humans were less alienated// His manifesto uses many/ we’s and us’s” (28). And then you promise to “return to” him “later,” but you don’t mention him again by name; you just say that “he’s got every right to be a maniac” (32). How would you characterize his presence in the book?
Iijima: The Unabomber fascinates me as does anyone who can’t be contained within the system and bursts out, in raw, radical ways. If I was a sociologist I’d write papers about vigilantism. Ted Kaczynski reached an internal limit. His frustrations were/are clear—he wrote a manifesto. The Unabomber’s methodology is problematic on many levels. I’m not condoning him. It is very compelling though, that he lived in a little cabin he built himself and lived there so anti-socially, yet spent all of his time strategizing ways to get a social-political message across. His only “footprint” is his political statement. Well, now that taxpayers have to pay for his existence in prison, I guess he is leaving a footprint after all—a social tab. In part, he’s a symptom of the psychic disturbance that industrial-military capitalism causes in people, as the kids at Columbine experienced, as well as Timothy McVeigh or Seung-Hui Chou, who killed 32 students and teachers at Virginia Tech, etc. They were haunted by ethical demons. Or are these outbreaks caused by untreated mental illness that has no social correlation—I’m not sure. The critique of this is parodied in shows like South Park where the dysfunction of society is internalized, and also personal frustration is projected back onto society. We are fed back the symptoms as entertainment. Also, interesting is how the law is such a malleable system that weighs in questionably for some and as grace for others. Tyrone Williams is writing about Timothy McVeigh extensively. Then there’s Gerald Burns’ Unabomber piece.
Fink: Can one call the verse in this book free verse? If not, what is it? What are some criteria that allowed you to make decisions about line, strophe, and stanza breaks or blocks, the use of the slash, spacing in a line and between units in a line that recalls Olson’s “projective verse,” and any other formal considerations that you care to discuss?
Iijima: I guess free verse is an appropriate term for the way the line operates within this work. The syntax emphasizes rhythm stemming from body encounter, experiential data, somatic focus—writing at a cellular level. Something, a stance perhaps, about growing up in a small town in the country—to honor this background. A book of absorption, digestion and regurgitation but also radiation (like an electroencephalogram) and the velocity of sheer being—well, I have high hopes! My modality was to bust at the seams. Much of the articulation is a combination of vernacular speech and language as it sounds to the mind’s eye—pre-utterance: strong pronunciations in the brain—uncensored emotions and ideation. I don’t usually think within the structure of a sentence. Phonemes affect me. Hopefully the language is visceral, raw, sensual and momentous—teeming. Language that mutates. For a while I haven’t written discrete poems, so I thought it would be challenging to return to a shorter, discrete form and feel the pressure of the containment. Actually the work dictated this to me. All this proceeds so instinctually it is difficult to pinpoint each decision. Some poems are quite straightforward. Others ungulate.
Fink: Although much of revv.you’ll—ution is severely critical of current social and ecological practices and full of lamentation and anger about their effects, in one “Rev” section, you write, “Facilitate the/ question of what can I ask ideal world Sefirot Root of all of/ these routes Sing here archeology/ recovery” (60), and between captions in one photo-“essay,” you declare, “I want for the colors to show through any aesthetic framework that resides—local colors, the stuff that decays here and reactivates vision” (49). In previous answers, you’ve given some hints about this, but I want to ask this directly: do you feel that, at least at certain moments, the book points toward global renewal, toward a reversal of the trajectory toward large-scale catastrophe, and, if so, how?
Iijima: Lamenting in real time is a balm. The body throbs—it is vital and subject to change. Empathy is a healing energy conveyed from human to human and by this I mean, animal(s) amongst animal(s). Every gorgeous gesture is felt. I love the full range of emotions. Anger activates as does love. I surely don’t think feelings are sentimental. Am I being there for one another and how? Caring about our fellowship.
I actually don’t worry about large-scale catastrophe though it is best to make earnest efforts to avoid it. We live in human/animal time and its periphery which is about regeneration through death. The totality of the universe is subject to epic forces that act in dramatic, cataclysmic ways. Sentient life is a manifestation. I don’t worry if sentient life is doomed. Most likely it is a version—a coalescing into being through time. A pattern that is evoked slowly out of agitated material energies. Everything has profound meaning, and simultaneously meaning is reabsorbed back into potential energy, making meaning latent. I worry about toxicity and nuclear proliferation, maniacal systems, bigotry and war but not the scary projected end result which is probably not a reality. Reality is too interpenetrating and energetic to “end”—it could implode into a pressurized seed waiting to burst into new realities. Abating terror caused by human fabrication: yes, our human autobiography should read affirmatively. The universe itself is a highly mutable continuum. It will melt this version down when its impulse is to do so. How gorgeous! To implode or explode because of gaseous pressures and expanding universes. All the pretensions pulverized and spread over time. Presence, to share presence. The openness and expansion that the mind/body is capable of—this is truly thrilling.