Presence by Brenda Iijima


PUB DATE: 01/15/2024


At Treasure Island, a humanly made island in the San Francisco Bay, a performance troupe dressed in hazmat suits articulate gestures that resemble toxic remediation. As they become more attuned to the site and to its history and ecology, enigmatic presences infiltrate their spacetime. Are they from the past, the present, or the future? What is the significance of their sudden arrival? What happens when historical and geological eras converge?

Meanwhile, elsewhere, various earth scientists at sites around the globe search for the “golden spike”: a telltale geologic marker that synchronously indicates a definitive time change in the strata—a change from the Holocene epoch to the Anthropocene. Within their data is Earth’s biography, but how is humanity insinuated within this chronology?

Throughout Presence, encounter and contact are the major elements of consequence, action, implication, and resounding significance. Encounter and contact between timeframes, cultures, ecologies, persons, intuitions, ways of living, and worlding. At these junctures are the moments of possibility—of violence and/or of budding community.




Here is a completely unique, genre-defying, anti-apocalypse story. It is sprawling in scope, pushing the limits of language and narrative to imagine futures beyond our wildest dreams. Iijima is both a poet and a theorist of our frightening yet fascinating contemporary condition—and she does justice to our capacity to change and discover new ways of being in the world.

—Elvia Wilk, author of Death by Landscape

Stories of a devastated multiverse, told across scales and spaces. Presence is a speculative novel soaked in ecological theory and full of the ‘amphibious dayglow mushrooming creatureliness’ that makes it fizz.

—Daisy Hildyard, author of The Second Body

A brainy and marvelous meditation on time and trauma, Presence tells the story of an alien invasion in which the others in our midst are not from another planet but from another time. Just as these beings are caught between temporal zones, Brenda Iijima’s vibrant novel also lives within multiple crossings and layers, emerging from the interstices of ecopoetics, performance art, philosophy, geological science, and social justice to boldly make contact with pasts, presents, and futures both familiar and imagined. A breathtakingly epic project.

—Megan Milks, author of Margaret and the Mystery of the Missing Body

Equal parts modern myth, warning, prophecy, amplification, dream, reckoning, and rebalancing, Presence is more than an invitation to be present, but an invitation to embody all presents simultaneously, to shape-shift at all levels, and awaken into the fact that the past of our future is the present, and our presence is what will ultimately change everything. Iijima is a prophetic, attuned, ultra-aware writer. This novel doesn’t simply speculate on the future, it expands the present moment into a profound spaciousness where understanding at its deepest level is itself taken apart and re-photosynthesized. What is everything we are connected to? And what is everything we have lost, continue to lose? The novel tells us: ‘We are splintered fragments of a larger whole that is undergoing a vast metamorphosis,’ and the text indeed reflects as one jewel of Indra’s net that reflects every possible reality and also very specifically this one, one in which we survive catastrophe to find that joy and desire yet coexist in the cracks of our judgments and fears. Presence is aware of time as kaleidoscopic, waveform, and like any great work of art should, this text will rearrange every atom in your being until you, too, evaporate and become air for bodies to breathe or soil for plants to root in.

—Janice Lee, author of Separation Anxiety

Witness: a brilliant deluge of a novel in Brenda Iijima’s Presence, which maps traces—geologically, psychically, radioisotopically—of the human presence on this planet and the havoc we’ve wreaked. A multitude of voices (performance artists, biochemists, geologists, a naval conscript, etc.) form a chorus singing of our natural abundance and yet warning like Cassandra of the peril to come. This is sprawling wonder of a book collapses so many boundaries: plot is as literal as the soil from which plants grow, all life is sourced, and is consecrated in a scene worthy of Lispector.

—Anne K. Yoder, author of The Enhancers

Brenda Iijima in Presence investigates the ghostly peninsulas of psychic crime. She invigors a chirality that measures itself via measures of psychic wisdom that spins off and creatively measures the settler’s psyche as it attempts to stun by means of an ersatz parallel blinding dominated as it is by chronic mental foreshortening fomented by the dazzling vapor that issues from Iijima’s penetrant insight.

—Will Alexander, author of The Coming Mental Range





Brenda Iijima is a poet, novelist, playwright, choreographer, and visual artist. She is the author of nine books of poetry. Her involvements occur at the intersections and mutations of genre, mode, receptivity, and field of study. Her current work engages submerged and occluded histories, other-than-human modes of expression, and telluric awareness in all forms. Iijima is the founding editor-publisher of Portable Press @ Yo-Yo Labs. She lives in Brooklyn.