Wednesday, May 20, 2009



THE ALPS by Brandon Shimoda
(Flim Forum Press, Slingerlands, N.Y., 2008)

Notes Approaching Brandon Shimoda's The Alps

1. I attempt to write a straight-faced review of The Alps – to tackle its sliding slippery ropes of words head-on:

In The Alps, Brandon Shimoda places the body (two bodies, to be exact, of slightly blurry bunny-eared children) as the interlocutor, the greeter, the welcomer to the expectant reader before entering into a space of openings without closure, ruptures and bodily tearings:
“Upended sky, profane and bled, youth's
Unbodied land as the land is destroyed” (8)

2. Ok, a lie. The first metaphor I think of when sitting down to write:

This morning, I opened the dryer to stare at fragments of old business cards I had forgotten to rescue from an old pocket surfacing. Faded and coherent, recognizable and strange, snowflakes – melting glimpses of memory:
“a   t   o   m  r  h     a   d ee   ate m   e
s   e   s a l ve” (126)

3. The middle section has no face. Rather, it is a frame of silence, an absent box through which the reader sees _____. The caption – something akin to family memory or momentary image or revolutionary noun or repetition or question (haiku?) -- is always there for interpretation:
“Verse made the flames dance

The people
on buffalo fat” (78)

Then, as I flip past the last poem of this section, the photo. Blurry.

4. White space, inevitable. A downshifting, a taut, a string of gravity, the folds of a mountain crumbling down, an avalanche of carefully selected pairings, or “rubbling testimonies of ice.” (36) But then the landing for brief moments into the landmass, surfacing of meanings.

5. “I love the alien abduction story too, and especially the idea of the alien face staring at you from the closed book. Maybe that face has never left, but has changed its form innumerably. There is something terrifying about a closed book, for that reason - for its ruthless silence, and for the faces and forms that you just know are lying in wait, continuing their lives despite the absence of the reader or viewer. How do you view, or think about, your own poems, or books of poems, in such moments of supposed dormancy? Have you ever confronted your own work in this way, as a particular life force that continues its activities when the lights go out, so to speak? You mention that the life that a work (or form, etc.) possesses is "supplied only by those who animate it," but have you ever been proven false in this assertion by the work itself, as it splits so fully from your intention and being that it behaves much like that alien face in the closed book? Or, does the alien face only have power because the artist, or you, allow it that? BRANDON”

6. Almost a hint of a narrative emerged in fragments, amidst shavings from the ice:
“My father sent his first wife's
ashes to Japan with
the photographer, I have
the feeling I'm being
told a story” (71)

Juxtapose this quote introducing the section “AT FIRST the ice presented” from mountain climber John Tyndall who studied glaciers:
“an appearance of utter confusion, but we soon reached a position where the mechanical conditions of the glacier revealed themselves, and where we might learn, had we not known it before, that confusion is merely the unknown intermixture of laws, and becomes order and beauty when we rise to their comprehension” (86)

7. Yes these narratives give us no reprieve from the blown-up world. Shimoda tells us in Trinity/Neutrality/The Draft,
“The day the trinity weapon was deployed
I kept myself between the ostensible
roots loose in the melt” (101)

So how do we as readers “embrace/embrace” (87) while holding onto the violent

“And will the sky hold
our shrapnel

           for a sign

the night with rifles
           raised.” (53)


“Armies, like newlyweds
in bushes along the port
anxiety belting the small are going to blow
likenesses overboard” (93)

How do we “without fracture            menace” (98)?


Ching-In Chen is the author of The Heart's Traffic (Arktoi Books/Red Hen Press 2009). A Kundiman Fellow, she currently lives in Riverside, California. You can find her online at

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