A book of poetry, dreams and speculative talks, collected from the psychic detritus of living in the US-Mexico borderlands.
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Part coping mechanism, part magical act, Hydra Medusa was composed while Brandon Shimoda was working five jobs and raising a child—during bus commutes, before bed, at sunrise. Encountering the ghosts of Japanese American ancestors, friends, children, and bodies of water, it asks: What is the desert but a site where people have died, are dying; are buried, unburied, memorialized, erased. Where they are trying, against and within the energy of it all, to contend with our inherited present—and to live.
Hydra Medusa is stunning. Written partly by dream, partly by death, and wholly by a clarity born of deep spiritual and political reckoning, it traverses the ethics of being conventionally alive and inextricably bound to the dead. This is the continuation of a work by a poet who gets out of the way for poetry, who steps fully into it and vanishes.
This work’s incendiary material is living. It lives in the afterlife of disappearances, catastrophe, and alongside and with ghosts/ed life. Then again it lives in newness and true wonder. This is a book of wisdom, of dream-language, of the kind that only arrives in that afterlife of terror where people are transformed by dying and self design. Still/and, things bloom, we exist, the dead refuse.
Brandon Shimoda knows his way around the dead. He has summoned them, followed their lead, faced their despair, soothed them. Or was it the other way around? The poems and essays in Hydra Medusa embody the irrevocable connection between the dead and the living, dreaming and wakefulness, past and present, writing and reading. Delicate and sharp, vociferous when need be, always incisive, these poems interrogate the proliferating terror of everyday life while veering, tenaciously and fiercely, even tenderly, toward the love, vigilance, and responsibility needed to keep our ancestors close and alive.
Hallucinatory, visionary, this is Brandon Shimoda’s “anti-memorial” memorial to the ineluctable spectre of Pearl Harbour over 3 generations of Japanese Americans. Poetry is the vital signs of a language, whatever the cultural climate. How else is one to meet the petrifying gaze of history, in the form of the Hydra Medusa? I am grateful for this human document.
“The Desert,” from Brandon Shimoda’s new collection, “Hydra Medusa,” is emblematic of the complex lyric-historical landscape of borders, dreams, shrines and underworlds found throughout his work. I asked Shimoda about the context and composition of this poem, and his answer was a skillful, evocative illumination of the relationship between life and poetry
Brandon Shimoda is a mystic poet. Hydra Medusa is an otherworldly book. By that I mean it is wholly of this world… If you pick up one of his poems and turn it around in your hands, it will visit your dreams… The book is a medium, through which one alternately falls and is rebuffed, descends, meets death, transforms, transported to a realm of apparitions. It is a book that refracts and multiplies one’s sight, opens windows that lead onto other windows—around you, below you, through you, behind.
Shimoda’s book is a tour de force. . . a sometimes melancholic, sometimes incantatory meditation on the evil that people can do.
Hydra Medusa [is] not only unexpected but also wholly fresh, not least because it is inchoate and difficult to pin down. Poems yield to essays and vice versa; voices overlap and interject. The book is constantly seeking out its own ley lines, its own points of intersection. It is constantly teaching us the ways it means to be read.
Historical violence has a way of scattering narratives and people across time, space, and consciousness. Brandon Shimoda’s work acknowledges this and does something about it. As Hydra Medusa makes clear, the past is separated from the present and future only by “a thin buoy of breathing.” In this collection, Shimoda blurs boundaries in order to occupy interstitial spaces. He offers invaluable possibilities for living not only in the afterlife of violence but also in the here and now.
This collection is at once a memorial to the past and a survey of its aftermath. Any single section would alone form a strong book. In Hydra Medusa, Shimoda has created a cohesive work of great depth and power.
Each stanza is a brief flicker of clarity, and every space between words a deep breath intended to make room in time for his readers to savor that clarity… To spend an hour with Brandon Shimoda is to spend an hour learning how to listen to the wind, how to listen close enough to hear the whisper of a ghost passing by. To spend a day with his words is to completely upend the way you move through time. Even, on occasion, to stop it.
[Shimoda’s] is a book on ancestors and the dead and how and where responsibility lands; a cross-stitch of violence and memorialization, deserts and the spaces within which one not only occupies, but lives.
BRANDON SHIMODA is a yonsei poet/writer, and the author of eight books of poetry and prose. He is also the curator of the Hiroshima Library, an itinerant reading room …