Brandon Shimoda | November 23, 2012
1. Where are you now?
Inside of me/you.
2. What are you working on and what have you got coming out?
Gettingbetter. Being better. POETRY: Working on poems I wrote in Japan (2011, 2012)—in sketchpads at night, in bed, glasses off, before sleep, one of my preferred—maybe default—modes of composition. They are all the exudates, or ashes—gossip—of their days, and are titled, collectively, EVENING ORACLE, from a line in an 8th cent. elegy by Prince Niu (Man’yoshu). Most feature women, most of them old. One about a watermelon is going to appear in Cannibal. I’ve been working for the past 5 years on a 2-volume book of poems, prose, drawings and a questionnaire, titled, THE GRAVE ON THE WALL (Vol. 1) and A GIANT ASLEEP IN FORTUNE’S SPINDLE (Vol. 2). My friend Zachary Schomburg recently got one of the GIANT drawings tattooed on his left upper arm. A collection of poems titled PORTUGUESE is coming out this spring jointly from Octopus Books and Tin House. PROSE: Very slowly, a documentary/book on the life of Midori Shimoda, my grandfather (1910-1996). I’ve written a hundred openings, some a hundred times, some set as far back as 15,000 years ago, including one 75,000 word “preface” about a photo of my grandfather wearing a bra taken while he was imprisoned in a Dept. of Justice camp during the Second World War, yet, I’m not exactly sure where or if I’ve actually begun. The work is research: glaciology, internment studies, immigration studies, conceptions of hell, picture brides, onnagata, pictorial photography, desert ecology, dementia, mid-19th century Japanese history, and so on, and seeking out friends and relatives of my grandfather, most of them dead. While taking a break—there have been many—I started an essay—New Year’s 2012—on the disappearance of the poet Craig Arnold (2009). The essay is about volcanoes and pilgrims, and ends with the lyrics to “My Darling Clementine.” I never met Craig, was never interested in his poems, though, while researching the persecution of Christians during the Tokugawa, found my way back to the blog Craig was keeping at the time of his disappearance, became obsessed with it, and especially a mention he makes of an “enormous” apple gifted to him by a fellow traveler. The essay began in contemplation of this apple, and is now 120 pages long. ETC: Thom Donovan and I have been working with Nightboat on a retrospective collection of writings by Etel Adnan. It should be out by the end of next year (2013). Putting together such a collection is a strange thing: often it feels preferable to exist forever in a state of gathering possibility while at the same time possibility feels as though the casting of an established, inevitable form backward, that the book itself is waiting for OUR LIVES to come around to IT’S LIFE. It has given us the fortune of spending time with Etel, whom we love, her mind, her life, as well as with each other, Thom and I. Last year, Lisa and I visited Thom and his wife, Dottie Lasky, at his parents’ in Cape Cod. We ate ice cream and watermelon, and, we believe, witnessed the paranormal activity of Thom’s deceased grandfather in the form of big band music blaring from a car stereo and water turning on in a bathroom sink. A hurricane was coming.
3. Where do you write?
On the side of the road.
4. What’s the last best thing you’ve read?
A thing is made of many continuous things, right? WE ARE FLAMES WHICH POUR OUT OF THE EARTH, the Private Journals of Edvard Munch, and Marina Tsvetaeva’s EARTHLY SIGNS, Moscow Diaries, 1917-1922, both extraordinary. On September 21 I bought, in Denver, a 1946 Penguin paperback of Virginia Woolf’s ORLANDO, which returned me to its first sentence: He—for there could be no doubt about his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters. My friend Mathias Svalina recently read aloud to me Isaac Babel’s startlingly vivid “Crossing the River Zbrucz,” from his RED CAVALRY stories. On September 20, I read Tomaz Salamun’s ON THE TRACKS OF WILD GAME, and had a dream that night that Tomaz was teaching me how to slow dance, including how to dance without moving a single part of my body except for my eyes. At the end of the dream, only his eyes were dancing. I’ve also recently enjoyed Catherine Mavrikakis’s A CANNIBAL AND MELANCHOLY MOURNING (trans. Nathalie Stephens); Laura Solomon’s THE HERMIT; the 15th C. Noh play, KOMACHI AT SEKIDERA; Joanne Kyger’s JAPAN AND INDIA JOURNALS, 1960-1964; and Mary Ruefle’s MADNESS, RACK, AND HONEY. I finished Kafka’s Diaries the day after returning to the States from two months in East Asia (Taiwan and Japan), July 30. The last sentence, in the Schocken Books edition is: More than consolation is: You too have weapons. On September 12, I read Akutagawa Ryunosuke’s A FOOL’S LIFE, completed a month before he overdosed on sleeping pills. He left behind a note: I exist now in a most unhappy happiness. But strangely, without remorse. Only that I feel sorry for those who had me as husband, father, son. Goodbye.
5. What journals, poets, presses have you discovered lately?
I’m discovering ones I’ve already discovered. ALSO: Wong May, her poetry, extant in three books published in the late-60s/70s. She’s now (approx.) 68 years old, lives in Dublin; has not published a book in over 30 years. I just got her third, Superstitions: Poems 1971-1976. The first line is, The lake’s blue ice says, “This is your mouth.” TWO JOURNALS BEGINNING WITH THE LETTER “A” THAT I VISIT AND REVISIT: (1) Asymptote is online. The Fall issue is out, with poems and prose translated from Turkish, Romanian, Russian, Dutch, Ancient Greek, German, Urdu, among others, incl. two poems by Beverly Dahlen, prose by Suzanne Doppelt and Hervé Guibert. (2) Aufgabe is in print. It always introduces me to transfixing and important works; the recent issue has a selection by contemporary Salvadoran poets, organized by Christian Nagler. On my mind: Krisma Mancía (trans. Jocelyn Saidenberg and Christian Nagler) and Rafael Menjivar Ochoa (trans. Emily Abendroth)—no, they’re ALL fucking great!
6. Care to share any distractions / diversions?
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7. What are you looking forward to?
In 2058, I will either be 80 years old or dead. Between now and then I hope to spend time with family, friends, and strangers—all of whom are everywhere—all the time—uncountable—times—and to travel, sit, do nothing, make something, make nothing something. A number of very good books by some very good friends are soon to arrive, including: Phil Cordelli’s Manual of Woody Plants (Ugly Duckling); Dot Devota’s And the Girls Worried Terribly (Noemi); Joshua Edwards’ Imperial Nostalgias (Ugly Duckling); Farnoosh Fathi’s Great Guns (Canarium); Brent Hendricks’ A Long Day at the End of the World (FSG); Rob Schlegel’s January Machine (Four Way Books); Joshua Marie Wilkinson’s Swamp Isthmus (Black Ocean); Deborah Woodard’s Borrowed Tales (Stockport Flats); Greta Wrolstad’s Notes on Sea and Shore (Tavern Books); Lynn Xu’s Debts & Lessons (Omnidawn); and Karena Youtz’s The Transfer Tree (1913). This is the beginning …