In The Country of Memory

I used to live in Korea.   I was about two years old and living in my uncle’s house. My parents were not with me because they had just started their hustle in New York and they sent me back to Korea so that I could be cared for my aunt and uncle.  I lived with them for about three years before reuniting with my parents in New York City.

jiwon&teddy

I remember

But four decades later, part of me is still there.

As a writer, I dwell in what Ted Kooser calls the “Country of Memory,”:  “We each have our country of memory always within us, always open to exploration, and we hold this for most of our lives.”  Essentially, this is where your nostalgia and sorrow are alive and well, waiting for you to come by for your daily dose of sad memories and regret.  This is where I come for my Father memories.  He passed away in 2006 so this is all I got.

The surface of memory is like one of those Advent calendar with lots of little flaps under which you can see things.

––Ted Kooser, The Poetry Home Repair Manual

You will find that my first book of poetry, One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons, opens a lot flaps, especially the father ones.  It makes sense that I would write about my father, as our relationship was difficult at times.  But I didn’t realize how much I would miss him until it was too late.

 

Back to 1951

My father is forgetting my face as he lies dying

in the company of parrots in bright eye shadow and lips

like Christmas.

On a battery of wings, surrounded by a halo of flies,

he is lifted back to 1951, seventeen and hiding in the mountains,

living off bitter roots and small snakes,

giving the Red Army the finger.

 

He stayed there long after soldiers went back to their farm

and factory lives

while I tried to fit inside his tin can of a heart:

 

thou shalt not smoke

thou shalt not skip breakfast

thou shalt not end up an old maid . . .

 

Did Confucius say headstrong daughters must assume the venerable position?

 

Do it anyway: kowtow and contemplate remains of flesh and bone

melting into silt and soil.

––Jiwon Choi, “One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons”

Thanks, But No Thanks

I’ve been having my work rejected by various poetry journals and publishers for a long time.   And I don’t keep a list of all my rejections, as it whiffs of being a bad sport––plus I don’t keep that much paper in the house!  Also, think about all the booze I’d have to drink to dull the pain.

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Driven to gin

Case in point, I have a poem that I’ve been working on for over a year, and it’s going to get the gold medal in the “consistently rejected” category.  The most recent NO THANKS came from Calyx:

Dear Jiwon Choi:

Thank you for your recent submission to CALYX. We’re happy to let you know that “Existence” was among the small group of submissions held for final consideration by our editorial collective. However, our editors ultimately concluded that your submission was not right for us at this time.

They went on to offer feedback on another poem that I’d sent in, of which I was appreciative because most places don’t bother to extend themselves this way––usually you get a form letter and “buh-by.”  But I’m still not sure what about this poem was “not right” for this journal at this time: Theme, length, tone?  All of the above?

I could ask them, but part of me doesn’t want to know.  Poetry is subjective and our connection with it is visceral, which can make it tricky to explain why we like the poems and poets that we do.

Thanks, but no thanks.

 

 

A Book

In 2017 I published my first book of poems.
one daughter

I’d been sending in my poems to some journals and getting some results.   As you active writers know, sending in poems is a full time job in itself, so I was doing my best to curate the list, keeping in mind where I would like to see my work.  Sure, Poetry and The New Yorker, but I don’t have three extra decades to wait for that to happen.   It’s okay to be practical and realistic:  Painted Bride Quarterly because they  publish Yusef Komunyakaa, one of my favorite poets, and Hanging Loose Press, because one of the first poetry books I’d ever owned was published by them.  It was Paul Violi’s Likewise.   And because both institutions have been around for decades, HL for 50 years and PBQ for almost as many.

After they’d published a handful of my poems, an editor from Hanging Loose emailed to say they’d consider a manuscript for publication if I had one.  Oh, I had one.  I’d been schlepping it around town, editing on the subway and the occasional bar, for some five years.

It was a relief to see my many loose pages gathered and bound into a real book.  I am a creature of book habits and so there was a keen joy in reading my work in book form.  I will admit, I felt validated.  But this relief is fleeting and soon you look to your next fix, dare I say it, a second collection?!

And thanks to PBQ for posting a nice announcement about my book when it first came out:

PBQ