Reconfiguration and Recovery in Brenda Iijima’s Palimptext, revv. you’ll-ution – Heather Sweeney

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Heather Sweeney currently lives in San Diego where she teaches writing and yoga.  Some of her other work appears or is forthcoming in Bad Pony, Moonchild, The Hunger, La Vague, Bombay Gin, dusie, and Shantih.

Reconfiguration and Recovery in Brenda Iijima’s Palimptext, revv. you’ll-ution

Because it is difficult to decipher.  Artificial from natural. Fact from a fiction. Human from animal. Because it is difficult to write this.  To revv up the writer. Here. Because Maurice Blanchot has written, “I renounce the idea of my producing and formulating myself” (7). Can we begin with the body, the animal? The merging existences? The connection and dislocation. A scene from the book emerges:

“Sparrows peck/at fuel//I cut off my bird/to spite my face” (Iijima 26).  

We code the book revv. you’ll-ution by Brenda Iijima in a raw way. Because of the way we are mutating. As writers.  Because the book begins post something, with an emergence from “the quarry” (7). With “will.”  A sense of determination and propellment. With the following:  extinctions, solidified bodies, mutations, lava and ice.  With a future collective “Sibling breath animal” (9). Because we are turning —returning — into animals.  The poems, alternatively labeled “REV,” “RAW,” and “THIS IS THIS,” announce ecological concerns and call attention to erased and misplaced histories. The poems act as palimpsestic molecular frequencies. As darkening and subtraction made visible. To reveal and recover. The book is both earth material and reverberation.  

Iijima creates a palimpsestic artifact in  revv. you’ll-ution. There is a layering of histories, both recent and prehistoric, and even potential histories, all conveying a sensation of being pulled both backward and forward within and between the same breath. The palimpsest that is an accumulation of material and memory. To touch the places where these realms fold into each other and dissolve. Through stratified imagery, we return to a conflicting wreckage of geographies:  “Hell in intervals” and nearby, “a chilly ocean” (8). Within these overlapping environments, we become blurred and disoriented beings in a dark territory, in a “dark energy” (8). We are startled and ungrounded as shifting geographies (e)merge. We ask, what is the site of the poem?

Iijima expands the lens and latitude of who and what we are as humans in this present and post-something world. For example, as reconfigured bacteria, we are reduced to sameness with “rubble and blasting” in a field where “I can’t tell your difference” (22). Here, Iijima relays the reduction of humanity, but also reminds us of what remains:  “Sunsets are as beautiful/as ever” (26). There is a sense that we are transforming, yet becoming cloned by the war-torn environment. A push/pull momentum takes place in the formation of identity. According to Richard Owen in his recent review of the text, we then move from the self toward “… poems that address the “riveting” industries that engender and generate multiple forms of genocide and devastation on a global scale, revv. you’ll—ution insists we reconsider the spatialisation of the past that destructively separates humanity from the animal world, civilisation from the primitive, developed from the developing (Owens). The book overlaps and overlays past and future locations as we consider our “humanness” among the rubble.  

The book is also a site of collaboration among and between the poet, her mother, Erika Uchman, and childhood friend, Tammy Fortin. Consider a constellation of intersectionalities occurring simultaneously in Iijima’s hometown, North Adams Massachusetts. Consider the trek through the poems, histories, photographs and activist spaces that weave to highlight the complex and layered “conversation” about ecology and women that is occurring between these arrangements. In an interview for Little Red Leaves, Iijima elaborates on this point:  “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?” (“Thomas Fink Interviews Brenda Iijima”). We are (w)itness to the words and enter Iijima’s wor(l)ds of cognitive angles.

For example, the beginning of the book is interspersed with photos of stuffed animals in a state forest where Uchman is “relating and studying the animals in this habitat” (11). An anthropological investigation of stuffed animal apes, dinosaurs and dogs in the wilderness. Sifting through language and peering into photographs we ask, what are we witnessing? It is more than odd displacement. What is considered natural?  What is primal? Timeless wonderments. Is “natural” out of reach? Have we, forever engaged with tools, technology, with art and artifice, ever truly lived “naturally”? If this term is out of reach, to what new state of being can we aspire? Iijima reports from the field study that “stuffed animals are human offspring” (19). We are reminded that we seek comfort in fabrication; the artificial becomes us.

In another collaboration, the women sought to “re-create” a murder of a young woman that occurred in Iijima’s hometown. Photographs and reportage mingle on the page:  “My mom, Tammy and I collaborated on a series of dramatic physical movements that seek to acknowledge the physical confrontation and violence that Lynn (Burdick) experienced” (39). What does a community carry?  The residues of trauma, the embodiment. The glossed over and forgotten. What takes place within the body of a community, a “recognition” of a tragedy, the murdered female body (40). What does it mean to enact the memory of someone who “wasn’t found” (48). This creation of collective memory, the enactment, heals and provide energetic closure by honoring the life of Lynn Burdick. What does it mean to pronounce the name of a murdered woman?  To reclaim, to rupture the silence. To face our shared histories, layered with acts of omission and violence. Iijima expands on what her project serves to (re)create:  “The aura of her breath. To account for the memory of her being alive.  An energy which diffuses violence” (44). Consider the new energy that is created and contained within speaking, within not turning away.

The sections titled, “Overleaf” lend another quality of transparency one might achieve by placing an ethereal blueprint over a familiar text to illuminate what has been glossed over and hidden. To cull, as the erasure of history is revealed.  In one “Overleaf” section, an historical account explains that the Native American Chief, Graylock refused to negotiate a European settlement in the 1700s. Conducting research and connecting the dots, the poet concludes that Mount Greylock is possibly named after him. An assemblage. Evidence of the erasure of history:  “In the face of violence and attempted erasure, what meanings does alterity have?” (15). The Overleafs offer yet another “layer” to a story that we think we already know and understand. Another contemporary happening is described and depicted further into the book, clarifying a collective event that is still occurring:

Overleaf:  This is the municipal landfill/trash reclamation site in North Adams,  Massachusetts.  This pile of plastic was generated in less than one day by the 13,500 residents of the town.  I want to visually convey an on-going concern about mass production displacing “the wild”—a contentious query, because it is often difficult to categorize the artificial form the “real” (83).

On the next few pages, the reader is confronted with a series of black and white photographs which depict a large mound of plastic bottles with variously placed stuffed animals set on the pile. Some photos capture a wide shot of the scene, while others provide close-ups of the animals, almost as if to show the toy’s reactions to the wasteland and their placement within the tragic structure. These re-configurations reveal our disregard for waste and the invisibility our accumulated “garbage.” Our culture’s desecration, the timeless “pile” that Walter Benjamin speaks of in “Theses on the Philosophy of History” wherein the angel of history sees “one single catastrophe that keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage…” (257). The “pile,” for which we are all culpable, is the infinite disaster; it is our palimpsestic legacy.  In a recent interview with Thomas Fink, Iijima elaborates on our collective disaster:  “…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?” Iijima resituates the reader within (and without) nature to witness the absurdity of the ruin:  the mound of material, the waste.

We are not, as Iijima points out, taking stock. This form of erasure, as our waste accumulates, serves to preserve our comfort and lifestyle. In “REV:  MANIFEST DETESTED,” she reports facts which are hidden from view: “13/4 of chemical to make these blue jeans” (87). What else do we “not see” among our possessions and daily life?  Mutations, concealment, existence. In a poem titled “REV: COMPOUND OF DISSONANACE AND DISSIDENCE,”  we become animals again:  “We dogs look like hounds of war/Clamoring for and amidst tea leaves/Butchery made the red oak doors, remorse in this…” (65). We transform ourselves and the earth’s materials into doors, books, tea leaves, fuel but do not fully digest these processes, never feel “fibers tingling” (65). We disregard, avoid. We hollow out and hide.  

The palimptext that is the book refuses rest and resolve. There is no closure, or resolution. We witness the piling of “sea birds strangled by plastic refuse” and “the polar bears dance/all laced with spent rocket fuel” (109). We also survey the excavation of history, the many layers that build and erode, as indicated by Owens,  “…revv. you’ll—ution is motored by a poetics of digging, tilling and a desire to turn material evidence over and over again in a dialectical movement that discloses new ways of hearing…” (Owens). This text is and allows “puncturing membranes” to surface.  Revved and riveted, the human engine is still humming. Within layers of “Mucus/ Soil/ Harvest/Rot” (102).  Will we emerge from the collated histories and hells embedded within the earth and each other? Do we possess the “crystalline grit” (103)? The possibility matters.  The potential of our intentions and our voices. Because even “within the present war,” which is, to use Derrida’s term, “always already,” our bodies merge with the edgy serpentine crowd that trudges/toward a dissolving destiny of peace calls and songs and prayers” (Iijima 43).  



Benjamin, Walter.  Illuminations.  New York:  Schocken Books.  1968.

Blanchot, Maurice.  The Writing of the Disaster.  Lincoln and London:  University of Nebraska Press.  1995

Iijima, Brenda.  revv. you’ll-ution.  Ann Arbor:  Displaced Press.  2009.

Owens, Richard.  “Birds in Their Difficulty: Revv. You’ll-ution”  Damn the Caesars: At Home With Itself in Its Otherness.  Jan. 10, 2010.  Web.  March 21, 2015.

“Thomas Fink Interviews Brenda Iijima” Little Red Leaves, 5.  n.d.  Web.  March 22, 2015.

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