Perceived Distance from Impact, Kamden Hilliard
// review by Xandria Phillips //
Exposing one's self to Kamden Hilliard's work in Perceived Distance from Impact is akin to an invasive species of narratives unburdened by linearity, occupying the brain stem. I am reminded of hearing Chris Abani speak about the fundamental nature of poetry. He said, “poetry should be like a virus in that its fundamental motions must be mutation and resistance.” When I read each line left to right, Kamden's syntax shucks the western time and movement I script onto poetry. Kamden's punctuation is ambitious: carrying rhythm and never impeding thought. Their poetry evolves with its subjects, queering time along the way. Poems like “Hair Salon: Catalog in Seven,” show us how language can function when lines grow outward from a conceptual nuclei.
was Scheherazade a nigger? stories are all, after all, the hardtrack
and spoiled butter of survival: the fuck you think Morrison
is up to anyway? General hint: John Henryism. no
i'm asking what time the barbecue starts starts.
What do Scheherazade, Tony Morrison, and John Henry(ism) have in common? All are relentless world-builders. All of them deserve a day off. None of them want to arrive well before sustenance is served. A word-smith in collusion with hydra, Kamden exhausts possibility rather than executing it, and still manages to spill a little blood along the way.
Ask the poems in Perceived Distance from Impact where their impact lies and they will answer “feeling pretty / kill the master and marry his strife.” Etymological masters dying of blunt forced trauma; this is what the language is bracing for, and the poems themselves discord and rattle their fetters as new instruments for the tongues of the diaspora.
“Notes from the Port, Anthropological Thots; Catalogue in Twelve,” the opening poem of Kamden's chapbook, fronts as a travel piece, while the poem works through a much more complicated lineage. Can members of the Black diaspora even be considered travelers? “Traveler” in the context of cannonized white western narratives implies agency and reception. In order to be a traveler one must plot their own journey, and upon arrival, be greetedas one who has transcribed their body into a new setting. On this subject there's too much chew for Kamden's sarcasm to bite. Displacement is the common grind.
my body a disruption and oddity. here be THE MODERN AMERIKKKAN
NEGRO see what fantastic work the ocean brings!
Kamden shows us here how with humanity deficit comes the erasure of movement: growing, shrinking, pulling, being pulled. Black bodies don't move. We infest. We multiply. And the masses only congregate for us if they can catch a glimpse of our “work.”
In these forms, I see radical Black empathy, nuance, and a glaring, sharp sense of humor. The poems swivel their approach between sections, as they confide contradictions. “Early Amerikkkan Cinema [Pt. Two]” demonstrates a kaleidoscope of engagements with D.W. Griffith, the “formally excellent,” “significant,” and racist white film-maker who directed Birth of a Nation. This poem in seven parts utilizes conceits including, but not limited to a groupie persona, stage directions coupled with dramatic asides, a pop quiz, and an IMDB erasure . Kamden's emotional and technical work challenges and meets itself at its interior. With their myriad of approaches, Kamden demonstrates how Black perspectives are lenses in constant rotation. Because we are asked compassion in infinitesimal quantities, are conditioned to cosset our oppressors, we are libraries of flinch, meaning, we can read the future.
Kamden captures technology's eroticism in a queer and contemporary landscape. Armed with a smartphone, body, and desire the speaker in “PYTHON: Catalog In Seven” gauges attraction as a cyborg plumbing its technological and organic options.
Tinder can string me up
in glorious beads of code
The language carries misplaced desire and the consequences of it.
i've been reading the Harry Potter series. he say...
the novels, all seven of them, have five, yes, five,
black people. i am five, yes, five black people. my complicated fragments
of code / my chimerical limp.
what do you do? cry? cut
yourself out? yes, these things are done, but what else?
roll out of bed and into another day still delicate
For the speaker, even benign-seeming allusions are haunted by what Claudia Rankine calls “the historical self;” one's personhood connected to racialized colonial bodies. Nothing, not dating or an unapologetic love of Harry Potter, is benign when it comes to race in the United States. Language floods over into heartland when the speaker realizes that this potential lover enjoys a series rarely populated by Black people.
Another impact. Another tremor through glass and wood. Kamden's articulation shatters a norm against the floor of the bar.
what is the user's color?: I mean I need lotion and family, if that helps, lol.
When language and technology function under the guise of assumed whiteness, Kamden clowns these notions.
Perceived Distance From Impact irreparably entangles dualities. While reading, one must tear down the roof of their mouth so the tongue and the brain have full access to each other.
Kamden has published two chapbooks, is an editor at Jellyfish Magazine, and goes by Kam. Kam has received support from Sarah Lawrence College, The University of Hawaii, The Ucross Foundation, The Davidson Institute, Callaloo, and will be studying at The Iowa Writers' Workshop in Fall 2017.