Sueyeun Juliette Lee on Kim Hyesoon

by on Apr.25, 2012

Here’s a review of Kim Hyesoon’s All The Garbage of the World Unite! (Action Books, 2012) written by Sueyeun Juliette Lee. It’s an interesting attempt to grapple with an important issue of translation – how much to emphasize the translatedness (cultural context) and how much to bring the text into a US context. This goes right along with my post about reviews from a couple of days ago. I have a lot of feelings about this review, but I’ll hold off and hear what the rest of you have to say about it.

She talks quite a bit about Korean-American writers and Kim Hyesoon’s relationship/lack of relationship to said writers:

Action Books recently released a new collection of work by South Korean poet Kim Hyesoon, translated by Don Mee Choi. Titled All the Garbage of the World, Unite! the collection is indeed a cry for us to struggle against—while also dwelling and finding glory in—the minor corridors, abjected detritus, and mundanely overlooked interstices of life. In Kim’s vigorous hands, these spaces are ferocious, strange and gaspingly alive.

I turned to this collection with a highly motivated curiosity. I wanted to see what a contemporary Korean female poet might be interested in, with the assumption that race and immigration—key preoccupations in a lot of contemporary diasporic Korean writing—would not be of central concern for a native author. Perhaps I hoped to see a version of what someone a bit like me might have become had my parents never immigrated. As gratifying as it is to see numerous Korean American poets getting published (Myung Mi Kim, Jennifer Kwon Dobbs, Lee Herrick, Ishle Park, Cathy Park Hong, Sunyoung Shin, Ed Bok Lee, to name a few) I’ve found that many Korean American writers working today, myself included, have been primarily interested in wrestling with the psychological fallout of inheriting a cultural legacy structured by the Korean War, displacement, and racialization processes at work upon us here in the colonial center. There are exceptions—Brian Kim Stefans, for example, has never written explicitly about such themes. However, regardless of our aesthetic inclinations, I have noticed that Korean American literature generally has been caught in a particular refrain, one in which these wounds are worked over and over. This isn’t to denigrate the writing—if we are trapped in a refrain, it is clearly because we still need to work this out—but I wanted to see what possibilities looked like outside of this structure of being. And though there have been some anthologies of translated Korean poetry, there are few translations devoted to a single author’s work—at the moment, I can only think of Ko Un and a small collection of Yi Sang’s work. The fact that this is the second collection of Kim’s poetry that Choi has translated into English makes Kim’s contribution to US-based audience’s understandings of contemporary Korean writing particularly weighty.

Let me know what you think!

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