by Janice Lee
1. To be clear, this book, and all of Kim Hyesoon’s books, are tainted by my mother’s death.
2. This of course is not the fault of the author. Simply, I first discovered Kim Hyesoon when Action Books published Mommy Must Be A Mountain of Feathers. I was excited by the images of rats, of devouring, crushed bodies, the somehow endearing repulsion. And I was excited to share these poems with my mother. I bought as many of her books in the original Korean as I could order online, and my mother and I were going to read them in Korean together. We hadn’t read together since I was very young so this was a very special prospect for me.
3. My mother passed away suddenly before we were able to read together.
4. I still have the books, but my Korean isn’t good enough to get through them myself. When I can, I like to look at the poems side-by-side, but mostly, they just sit on my shelf.
5. In an interview, Kim Hyesoon says: “Mothers live somewhere after giving birth to us. Our mothers who have gone are buried in our bodies. It can be said that we were born with dead mothers in our body.” This deeply resonates with me.
6. Still, I couldn’t resist when Action Books put out a second collection of her poems in English.
7. In these poems, everything is both filthy and holy, repulsive and affectionate, present and disconnected.
8. As the text often describes a disconnect between heart and head and body, while reading, the visceral reactions I had seemed to separate my own self into multiple feeling selves, each reaching out over gaps looking for fingertips to grab a hold of, connected by this commonality of loss and distance, yet constantly searching, observing, and unsatiated.
9. In the preface, Kim Hyesoon writes, “I am many inside poetry. ‘I’ as a subject, the cognizant ‘I’ is deconstructed. I have never once lived as a single ‘I’ inside poetry. The confusion of the multiple ‘I’ is what makes me write poetry.”
10. The poem “Lady Phantom,” begins with “There is a corpse in the room / I killed someone,” and then later, “Maybe no one here has left a corpse behind / Everyone’s boisterous as if they have no bodies to hide.” Though there is a penetrance of being singular in this kind of guilt, of course we all have killed. At least I have. I choose to forget, but there are the many bodies stacked up in my closet. Will you find them?
11. This kind of writing makes me question my own relationship with truth and identity and reality. Of course I think of the many deaths and suicides I partake in everyday, both psychologically, and also physically: Like, I can’t get enough of shows like CSI and Castle andBones and yes, there’s a sort of perverse pleasure in the watching.
12. But at the heart of it, part of what Kim Hyesoon’s writing alludes to, at least for me, is the holiness of words. Another review of the book states: “Several words become one new word. These new words become gods, complete entities.”
13. And I think of the moments in which I play God. Like on the freeway sometimes, to counter my road rage, it makes me feel better to draw X’s in the air with my finger like some sort of spell that will cause the object of my current loathing to later die some painful and deserved self. Is this morbid? Or a mislead anger management technique?
14. Or I think of the strange dreams I have, dreams often so repulsive that I have to force myself to wake up somehow. Why is it so horrible even when I’m aware that I’m dreaming?
15. In a recent dream, I’m sitting in a chair and there are girls surrounding me doing my hair, as if they’re preparing me for some special event. My hair is long and straight, and I remember thinking, This isn’t how I usually do my hair but I guess it looks all right. I exit the room I’m in, walking towards whatever event I’m being pampered for. A date? A wedding? I remember feeling particularly beautiful and skinny and confident. I approach a small wooden building, a café maybe, but something is wrong. Some villain is holding the occupants hostage. I know this is dangerous territory. I should turn around. But the dream’s curiosity pushes me to enter. The villain is stocky, and it’s really hard to tell if they’re male or female. This seems purposeful. They smile because I’ve joined the party. One of the other hostages, a female, is so terrified that she’s bawling. The villain steps up to her, pulls out something that’s supposed to their dick probably, but it more resembles a large glob of semi-hardened Elmer’s glue. The hostage puts it in her mouth reluctantly. This is when I force myself to wake up.
16. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have dreams like this often. (Seriously, it makes me uncomfortable to admit I have dreams like this.) But once in awhile, the fucked-up part of my consciousness decides to play games on me like this. This is how I feel when I’m interacting with these poems. These are the kinds of memories that resurface.
17. I think about how many times I’ve died in my dreams and then was resurrected. I think about how many people I’ve killed in my dreams and enjoyed it.
18. Is there something about this book that’s making me want to confess these things?
19. Sueyeun Juliette Lee has a really great review of this book at Constant Critic. It’s a super smart look at the book and looks a bit at the context in which Kim Hyesoon is writing.
20. I will admit that though many books make me think, this book made me feel.
21. Probably too because I’ve been feeling depressed lately, I’ve been depending on my heart more than my brain. Sometimes it’s a lot of work to use your brain.
22. There are too many to list them all, but some of the images that stood out to me…
– From “Starfish”: “Since I always lack oxygen, my footsteps move across the tundra / Being on time is my sickness, but I need to get going to be on time.”
– From “Red Scissors Woman”: “How scared God must have been / when the woman who ate all the fruit of the tree he’d planted / was cutting out each red body from / between her legs.”
– From “Cat”: “Mommy rats even eat their baby rats while in labor, yet / I’m told to eat, eat again / Hordes of rats are filling up my whole body till I’m ready to burst / Really I’m heavier than a pine tree dangling pinecones.”
23. There’s something uncanny about the ugliness of Kim Hyesoon’s writing. Maybe because it seems so natural.
24. Garbage is not just garbage. Part of our own selves is made up of all the garbage we’ve thrown away. Meaning there is a hole, because the garbage was gotten rid of. Like the dead part of ourselves.
25. The rhythm too, is impeccable to me. (I think a great credit to Don Mee Choi’s translation). I mean, if we were to rip out our intestines and forced them to talk, isn’t this exactly what they would wound like?