Brandon Shimoda dives into travel, dragon’s whiskers, the poetry of decision-making, spirits-within-spirits, and city versus country.
Poetry books often become artifacts through personal experience or reputation. They demonstrate why we hunger for labyrinths of beauty and reason. They, like Brandon Shimoda’s newest full-length Portuguese, are otherworldly, intensely present, and unmistakable in their singularity.
Portuguese—the inaugural collection published jointly by Octopus Books and Tin House Books—epitomizes that class of timeless art. It can be found in bookstores or buried in the Southwestern desert. It bears the complicated history of a true artifact: ghostly yet grounded. Its poems glide down a staircase with steps of different sizes. We swoon and jerk. We’re convinced the speaker’s family is our own.
Shimoda’s poems manage a clarity that Sappho would employ in 2013, an empirical exactness, and potency. The reader stands on a wooded island stacked on top of other islands. A whisper grows with the timbre of a boom, and one carries the echo for good luck.
On the jacket of Portuguese, twenty-six blurbs speak in awe of Brandon Shimoda—and rightfully so. I emailed with him over the course of several months, spanning a handful of continents.
Daniel Moysaenko You explain in the epilogue to Portuguese that as a young child an older kid on the school bus called you Portuguese, though to your knowledge you aren’t ethnically Portuguese. You go on to investigate the relationship between your Japanese ancestry and that boy’s insistence on a different identity. A number of poems in Portuguese call to mind this doubleness: hermaphrodites, androgyny, “two wives with one body,” “a face bulging out of another face,” “the possibility of being / In two places simultaneously.” Could you talk a little about that? The liminal space, a bridge between two identified categories—is it obliteration of borders, compassion, complication of self-image, something else?
Brandon Shimoda I’ve experienced the sensation that I am my sister many times—not that I am both myself and the sister of myself, but that I am only one self, my sister, my actual sister: Kelly Shimoda. It’s been awhile since I’ve experienced this, but I remember it well. It was a sensation, both physical and mental, and transitory, of course. In those moments, I had a brother: Brandon Shimoda. I was not Brandon. Brandon was someone else: my brother. It’s possible I was slipping into the body and mind of a third sibling, mostly sister, but not, a sibling neither sister nor brother. I don’t know where I have felt at home, if anywhere. I am half of many things, though do and do not know when to undertake or operate a hyphen.