Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Myung Mi Kim, The Bounty (Chax, 2000)

I read this one a couple of weeks ago, in preparation for Kim’s reading at UW, having read bits and pieces of her books for awhile. It’s perhaps the most difficult of the texts that have found their way into my April marathon, and a discussion of it really needs more time (and more rereading) than I’ve been able to give to it this month. I’ll note some observations on her work in general, as I’ve found it so far, both in relation to The Bounty and to her recent Penury (the focus of her reading here, which was followed by an intriguing and friendly discussion).

Kim’s poetry is engaged with history—a train of wagons clambered upon by more and more poets these days, and one that I feel is well worth pursuing, with many directions open to investigation—and that includes the history of the present as well. In fact, much of Kim’s material from the present can often feel like the past, because it deals directly with issues of labor and gender in places and cultural contexts (Korea, Africa, the “third world” in general) that hardly get a mention in the news, are hardly a part of our everyday thinking. When we do encounter them, it’s in the context of something like a photo in the Times—an image so surrounded by the communicative, technological and informational contexts we’re used to that it’s all-but-drowned-out by our habitual perspectives. Kim somehow bypasses those conduits, and that makes it seem less “now” in a way that’s valuable in a culture in which “now” means “the latest thing” and precludes the experience of the genuine presence of things as they are.

Part of this is acheived through her use of the fragment. Many (in Penury, even most) of the lines seem clearly to be parts of sentences from source materials. These fragments don’t work in two of the most common modes for historical poetry. They’re not compressed citations of a Poundian or Olsonian sort, and they also—and this is a subtle and great aspect of Kim’s poetry that I didn’t fully get until I heard her read it—don’t come off as silenced, as buried or barely uttered. There’s a lot of space, a lot of silence, in and on Kim’s pages, but it doesn’t seem like a silence enforced by oppression. Though this poetry targets injustice, its silences are less a symbolic protest than they are a utopian space.

In the post-reading discussion, Kim made a lovely contrast between mourning as a state and as an activity (if I’m remembering this right). She wants mourning to be a way of moving forward with what’s passed, and thinks of her silences, mournful and otherwise, as productive sites of activity—so that a set of fragments becomes a constellation in which something about the sources that never spoke before can come to light their encounters with one another. Their fragmentariness makes their borders permeable to one another. It heightens aspects other than informational content (such as sound and figuration) in any given individual fragment. At the same time, the content of those fragments reappears in the gradual accumulation that takes place over the course of a long work—the content recurs on a larger scale, and in a different light, or in a way that’s quite transformed, as new meaning. It’s that accumulative aspect that’s impossible to convey in excerpts, so I’ll just re-cite the crucial notions here and end with a couple of almost randomly selected pages from the “Anna O Addendum” sequence of The Bounty.

--Silence is a spaciousness productive of new relationships between fragments, rather than representative of a silencing.
--Fragments no longer function as fragments, instead gaining connotative and semantic richness, becoming in their nature something other than their documentary origins
--The cumulative effect of constellations of these parts brings content back into the foreground in a new way, and it’s a content that’s dependent upon the original specifics of the fragments, though not reducible to them.

Tombs of women ornamented

Who wants me dead

Referred to as water in a tube

Given X, Y sisters in slings of ars

Enter foyer breathe alike

Cauterized condition of agreement

Just so pose of pumpkin gourd

Surplus tomatoes screen of oaks

So long as economy sailed with men

[page break]

Scrupulous remnant

Snapped for chewing

Reticent dowel laurel plague

Contaminate feed and see

Disdain fabric worn through

Torch fact defer

[page break]

Rank swan either rye ripe

Threading treading threw up the word: skylark

Scent and scene audible tooth and tongue

A vowel is that which a consonant brought to touch

Noses of corralled animals part species a flame

Perfidy method divisive

Point a composite significant sound


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