I Am a Season That Does Not Exist In the World by Kim Kyung Ju, trans. by Jake Levine (Black Ocean, 2015)
The world of Kim Kyung Ju’s poetry is both intensely alive and intensely dead. The poetry is mythical while remaining intimate, sublime while also describing the destructive, intensely startling and beautiful. These poems, though intelligent and emotional, don’t hit hardest in the mind or heart; rather, they’re like these gut punches. You feel a heaviness and twisting in your bowels, not distant from Suh Nam-dong description of han: A feeling of unresolved resentment against injustices suffered, a sense of helplessness because of the overwhelming odds against one, a feeling of acute pain in one’s guts and bowels, making the whole body writhe and squirm, and an obstinate urge to take revenge and to right the wrong—all these combined.
A brilliant, visceral, and necessary read. (A great review of the book at Angel City Review.)
Listening to the sound of water, having the premonition of winter, the insides of birds run deep. Into the smell of the wind, wet birds came and left, and I realized I needed a little more heat in my body. Humans walk along the line of the shore and the water at night rolls up into the color of the skin of a cucumber. Night throws away the wind, night rustles. The smell of the eyes of a beast that lies in the grass spreads over the land. Light takes off its clothes and the bones between reeds grow cold. At dawn clouds rise more transparent than a scream. Our nerves don’t flow down the expressway of life like a perfect square. Even if several years pass, if you want to miscarry the heart, it is more effective to burn the moisture of heavy wind than set the grass ablaze. Picking up the burnt shadows if wind along with a few dead dreams, I realize these scars in the grass are not leftover pieces of wind, but the fever I carry inside myself that, little by little, becomes the color of a returning snowstorm. Hanging in every snowflake are particles of wind. What kind of consciousness would place the arch of a burnt foot inside that body? The sky is split with birds like lines in the palm. So what is the question then? I can’t find a place to sleep. Until it’s filled to the ribs, I watch the sleeping wind pile with snow. I hear the sound of cool water, inside eyes, inside winter fruit.
THE NIGHT THE CAT LICKS THE GLASS OF A BUTCHER’S WINDOW
Spiders crawl inside the ears
of children sleeping on the street.
Stuck to the window of a midnight butcher’s shop, a cat
on its hind legs pawing the glass.
Makeup is peeling on the chopped off faces lying in the trash.
Hooks hung on the wall spread open their vaginas
and drop blood on the face of time.
Inside a fluorescent tube filled with water
bugs lay dead eggs.
Not wearing pants, a reclusive shadow
paces to and fro between chunks of flesh.
The cat stiffens its back. Scowls.
A black tongue begins to lick the meat’s neck.
Drooling, while licking intestines
under the street lamp, the hunger of the cat is illuminated
and the humiliation, ecstatic, that the tongue is sucking
stuffs the mouth of a girl turning down the street.
The Habiliments by Joe Milazzo (Apostrophe Books, 2016)
From the publisher: “In Milazzo’s linguistic landscape ‘backyards explode with palaces,’ ‘the bones of rationale begin to knob and peep,’ ‘bone dreams merely of a snowmen’s chorus’ and ‘your westward affections run senile like a river.’ Quotidian reality wears a new syntactical and semantic garb as each poem seems to unravel language and a circadian rotation of ‘dreams’— ambiguously of sleep, of aspiration, of nonsense, of the fantastic, or of the banal.”
I had been anticipating this book for some time, and was fortunate enough to read some of these poems early on. These poems aren’t easy to describe. This book is full of dreams, the specificity of dreams, only the kind of specificity which dreams can provide, but only while residing within those dreams. Somehow the specificity that usually evaporates into elusivity becomes known, and yet, because the source is the dream, what is known is radically different than what is known. Beautiful, haunting, and forgetting, these are poems that dilate and perspire and nod, or, nod off.
THE DREAM IN WHICH A GOD OBSERVES WITHOUT WATCHING
Dressing’s procession is so slow.
I don’t want to mention the tobacco
or the rollers. I want you
to shower with a different soap, better, brush
with no bar at all.
I let the alarm clock twitch
like the damned on the end
of its robe. Some mercy, I trust,
in running a glass of water for the bedside,
some fealty to some commandment
in neglecting it so
draw a razor nearer my throat.
THE DREAM IN WHICH YOU WONDER WHY I ACT AS I DO
You told me once your fingers
with the treachery of drawers,
less your glasses, which only really
have one good ens. Batteries the
size of pills, pill bottles full of
chalky screws, hot sauce, needles and
rubber bands. I could tame
these ravenous blocks, I might pacify
the imploring of this growth.
are the edges that bite. Somewhere
the bezoar that still bristles,
masquerading as a thread whose end
is some prize. As blind as curiosity,
and as long. If you were to command
me: “Reach, but to not look.”
Read more excerpts at Word Riot.
The Surrender by Scott Esposito (Anomalous Press, 2016)
This is an incredibly sensitive, devastating and perceptive book. It is heartbreaking, beautiful, honest, gripping, brave, and observant. I can’t recommend this book enough.
Don Mee Choi said of the book: “Scott Esposito’s THE SURRENDER is a page-turner, moving and intellectually engaging… THE SURRENDER is not only an essential read for gender studies, but for anyone who must live with doubled identity, and this is many of us: immigrants, refugees, exiles, nomads, translators…”
And from the book’s description: “The Surrender is Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning his lifelong desire to be a woman. It is a book that asks just what we mean when we say the word gender—what separates male from female, and how we gain access to those things that make us feel who we truly are. It is also a book about desire—how we come to know the true nature of our needs, and how we find the ways to fulfill them. In these three linked, genre-defying essays, Esposito chronicles his life-long dialogue with his desires, coming to know them better and better through the life-saving moments that came to him as though by grace: the films and stories, dreams and insights and kindnesses that have given him the courage and the understanding to delve deeper and deeper into this lifelong inquiry.”
Living life this way makes everything one does into part of a great search for self. Everything around you is grist for this mill. You can try on anything to see if it’s really you. Having done this, my conclusion is that both sides of this performance are mine. It took many years, but I have come to see how they are complementary, not opposed. I want them both—I want to play with them as the mood strikes, and I want the world to acknowledge my skill with each one.
This, I have learned, is a crucial thing. If personality is a performance, then there are certain parts of it that one only experiences in the presence of others. Shame, affection, desire, vulnerability; these are quantities whose experience in solitude is like the sound of a sonata heard by one faulty ear. The words that others bring to your performance, their gazes, their bodies, they all sow within the mind emotions that do no exist when one merely imagines people in absentia. In the presence of others, the scriptedness of practice gives way to reaction; we experience the feeling of authenticity; this validation, this spontaneity is like a special mirror that reflects out truer self. It gives us the choice to identity with what we see, or reject it.
The bohemian poet who was the first person to react well to what I had to say arranged that on a Friday evening she would come to my apartment to meet her. Thus began five of the most portentous days of my life. The tar-like sands that fell through the hourglass that week; the pounds I lost from anxiety.
And then finally, Friday. The last thing I did before I made myself up into a woman was to walk down the hallway stairs to the front door, unlock it, and tape a set of instructions outside above the doorknob. Then I walked back up the stairs and closed the door at the landing. I attempted to become as beautiful and feminine as I could. Later, I heard the sound of the front door opening and closing. I heard footsteps on the stairs, a timid knock at the door on the landing. I pulled it open, backpedaling behind it as though it were my shield. We stood like that for a moment, with just that plane of wood between us. I understand that she would not be the first to move.
Her first words to be were that I looked gorgeous, and I immediately comprehended that I was on unknown soil, because this is not a thing a woman says to a man so casually and so openly. A man and a woman are careful to protect themselves from that frisson. Here, however, there was no concern for those sorts of misunderstandings.
The lengths that were required before I would permit myself to be this vulnerable before another person.
Remembering Animals by Brenda Iijimama (Nightboat Books, 2016)
First, Brenda Iijima is an amazing, brilliant, wise, and generous human being. There is an honestly and openness in how she communicates with other humans, and animals, that is incredibly genuine and honest, but also questioning, inquisitive, keen. My own new novel that I just started writing (after 2 years of having my ability to write be strangely crippled), was kick-started after a stay at her house in Brooklyn where one of her cats (or her neighbor’s cat, depending on the point of view), left some most marked impressions on me. While sleeping there, he would enter my dreams. And even after I left and arrived in LA, he arrived, in a dream, at my house, covered in blood, and asked to be let in. I love this long blurb by Judith Goldman, because I think both the book and the author are remarkably empathetic and telepathic, and that, under the surface of the writing, as in the real and natural world, the spaces open and close, mingle and oppose, expand and contract, and that understanding is often not at all about knowing:
“With new empathies and new telepathies, Brenda Iijima invites us to enter a somatic archive of the 21st century that incarnates a span from prehistory to post-permafrost. In the lush, angry text of Remembering Animals, page (en)joins corpus where your instinct thinks, in a biomagnified, graphic language of sharp impression, in elegant performances of internal textual memory passages repeat to insist. Never once does the abstract replace the visceral or the (flayed) viscera, as the work explores the depths of the skin-deep. Cell to landscape, micro to macro, here the spaces of biopolitics are traversed with scalar dexterity, whilst revealing, chillingly, how much of normalcy (or its maintenance) involves murder. This book takes full, earthly stock of such “human” adventures as Middle Passage and the Vietnam War, focusing, too, on ongoing formations of “white lock down.” And it makes us look, close enough to smell, at kindred phenomena of zoo and laboratory, factory farm, slaughterhouse, and market, game enclosure, poached veldt, and poisoned jungle. “One monoculture designed to mitigate the other”: somehow the solution in every toxic loop is to consume more, to feed the global circuits of our capital-sponsored extinction event. Remembering Animals powerfully scrutinizes symptomatic patterns of attachment and alibis of disaffection that allow this to occur. As Iijima draws out human cruelty’s incongruent congruity with animal predation, she also anatomizes the bestialization of both animals and humans, animals enlisted in human scripts of hatred and humans sinking into scenario after scenario of ugly, unmythic therianthropy. Man is the bitch of bitches. When you’re skeptical of standing on hind legs, let Remembering Animals permeate the blood-brain barrier. Given future temps, we all need learn to estivate. Barring that, we can use this kind of rabbit lesson.“