Return to the Year Broken Free

Reviewed By

I wish I could explain to you, to myself, the effect this language has upon me, but I can only say it makes my skin crawl. In a good way.

Several months ago, my editor at The Rumpus sent me a list of poetry books for review, inviting me to pick one. This is always a challenge. How do you choose among books of poetry? Sometimes, I seek the familiar. Sometimes, I look to reviews for guidance. Does a poet I like, like the poet in question? Sometimes, I seek the strange and foreign. It is in the last mood that I selected Brandon Shimoda’s The Girl Without Arms. An internet search had turned up a few enigmatic lines which I found incomprehensible yet deeply moving like somebody reaching inside me and rearranging the furniture.

The book arrived and I read it immediately with enthusiasm and a great deal of confusion. It grabbed me, it shook me, it puzzled me. This was a new language yet as familiar as my own clasped hands or the taste of the back of my teeth. Familiar, but puzzling. Intimate, but just beyond my understanding. This was language that made of the familiar something new and strange and as uncatchable as a hummingbird, mysteriously afloat.

Over the following days, then weeks, I read and reread, moved each time yet catching few if any insights I can rationally explain. One day, I think: ahhh, I understand something of THIS poem. Shimoda is reflecting upon the philosophical conundrum of whether a tree falling in the forest makes a noise if no one is there to hear. He writes:

stuttering interim forests
      everlasting sounds a forest makes

He writes:

a moment collapses speech

He writes:

is actually listening is

I wish I could explain to you, to myself, the effect this language has upon me, but I can only say it makes my skin crawl. In a good way.

Shimoda’s mastery of repetition, rhythm and sound is stunning. No obvious beat inhabits his poems, but there is the sweep of rhythmic experience, a heart beating so sensitively it shifts in its rhythms like the sea in the wind and crashes upon the reader like breaking surf.

He writes:

Return to the year broken free

                                        of breath and heat
In place of a life once considered

Damned            Return to the year
Broken free
                                        insidious heat
                    and harvest

Softly I bite into the stone fruit of human ruin

Shimoda has shared in interviews that he began his artistic life as a painter and these poems are visually rewarding as they space themselves upon the white space of the page, sometimes in ALL CAPITALS. Everything possible is turned and studied for maximum impact and effect.

These are poems that invade the blood and refuse to leave.

They defy description and analysis, but inspire and satisfy. They are as original as a person. They are poetry.

More, please.

Charles Kruger is a Bay area arts practitioner known as "The Storming Bohemian." He tries to do as much as he can. More from this author →