February 15, 2007
Introduction to Myung Mi Kim
By Josephine Park
It is an honor to introduce Myung Mi Kim, who has published four books of poetry: Under Flag in 1991, The Bounty in 1996, Dura in 1998, and in 2002, Commons. Her poems have been widely anthologized, and she is Professor of English at SUNY-Buffalo.
Myung Mi Kim's poetry is preoccupied with immigrant experience. She focuses in particular on personal and historical convergences between the U.S. and Korea, and in her evocations of Korean and Korean American history, her poems dwell in scenes of war and conflict.
Korea's division along the 38th parallel stands as a founding incoherence in her work, as in her poem "Demarcation" from Under Flag, in which she writes, "As compass locates relocates cuts fresh figures." She laments that these arbitrarily cut "fresh figures" have been, as she puts it, "Spun into coherence." Pound, of course, admitted that he could not make it cohere, but for Kim, the trouble is coherence. In the final pages of Commons, she states an imperative of her work: "Counter the totalizing power of language that serves the prevailing systems and demands of coherence." In compact bursts of words surrounded by white space, Kim pries apart and undoes language-and she forges new and often delicate compounds right at the edge of the prevailing coherence.
In "Thirty and Five Books," a section from Dura, Kim writes, "A banter English gathers carriers." Instead of aliens folding themselves into standard English, a spoken English gathers new voices, who become themselves carriers of English. This sense of language as itself an agent pervades her work, and the sounds of Hangul in particular can be felt as material and tactile entities.
Kim's play with sound values results in surprising and often revelatory combinations. One of the pleasures of reading her poetry is the desire to look up a known word because it suddenly sounds so different in the context she has made for it. To make uncertain our own competence in English is a demonstration of immigrant experience, and, further, an aesthetic renewal of our language.