Posts by jiwonny

Jiwon Choi is an early childhood educator, poet, and urban gardener. She is dedicated to making and eating her own Korean food, and published her first collection of poetry, One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons, last year.

Leaving Time

I am stuck in time. I am out of time. I am nothing but time. Kimpo Airport circa 1971.

The year we left Korea for America, my parents were counting on things being better in the West. Korea was twenty years out of war when we left, but the economic troubles flattened out a lot of families. I look at me at barely three here and know we were also one of those flattened families despite having taken a plane to the “promised land.”

I did not have the same urge for going that captivated my mother. I know she was doing her best for her family when she relocated us, but I wonder at all the things that were lost. I was listening to some guy on the radio bulldog-ishly say his father would tell people over thirty to stop opining their childhood. Of course, his father doesn’t know what he’s talking about while, at the same time, he probably does. But it’s not up to anyone to tell us when to get over our crap. Plus our crap is what fuels our creative energies. I know my muse is not some angel in gossamer, no offense to Clio, but my muse is a bloody, hairy stump under my bed.

Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in weakened broth

— from “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab-Nye

But I Don’t Want To Let Them Down

Last month I was in the hospital a lot.  Not for myself, but for my Old Ladies.  Not because they had covid-19 at the time, but one for sepsis and the other who was refusing to swallow.

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Old Ladies: Aunt & Mother ca 1970’s

The Old Lady refusing to swallow was my mother who after two weeks of getting fed through a nasal gastric tube had to have a feeding tube put in.  The refusing to swallow apparently is a symptom of dementia.  The other Old Lady, my aunt, is back in the nursing home and seems to be beating the odds (this is where I knock on wood).  The nursing home where my aunt resides is reporting six deaths due to the virus, but from what I can tell from our Facetime chats, she has not succumbed to it.

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Xmas 2013

I am not sure how long I can keep from succumbing to a dementia of my own.  A dementia brought on by the stress of making life-changing decisions for other people on top of the guilt that has been gnawing away at me since I took over the Old Ladies’ care back in 2011.

But I don’t want to let them down.

 

There are people who I know are dead

and people I suppose are dead

and people who I fear are dead

and dead people long forgotten

and dead people who never leave

excerpted from “There Are People Who I Know Are Dead”

by Robert Hershon

 

 

Go Back To Your Country

My father used to be a dentist in Korea.

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Cocktail party (my dad is the dude second from right) 

I remember my father telling me there was a conspiracy against him getting licensed to be a dentist in the U.S. and I thought he was crazy.  But the more I understand of the seventies and immigrant discrimination, I don’t think he was crazy.  Do I have proof that New York University conspired to keep my dad from passing his exams and getting his license to practice?  Not exactly.  But maybe the truth is somewhere in between conspiracy and institutional xenophobia.

We got to NYC when Nixon was still in office and the war in Vietnam was alive and well.  Enter us Korean immigrants into this mix for one fucked up cocktail of Yellow Peril and xenophobia.

I wish my dad would have returned to Korea way sooner than he did.  He could have just returned to his dentist life and my mom could have stayed in New York.   What did she thnk she was going to find in America?  I wonder if the allure of America is just a gimmick.  A trick to bring in the gullible.   Perhaps it’s not an equitable promise for all who heed her siren song?

Amidst the racist rants of “Go back to your country,” I sometimes wish we had.

we, the living

have this compulsion

to walk backwards into the past

as if the past has been waiting all this time

at the kitchen table

for our return

but the past has things to do

a forever schedule of sorting and erasing memories

for how quickly they get hoarded

and become the present

if you’re not careful

–excerpted from “Forever Schedule”  by Jiwon Choi

 

Of Books & Shelves

I don’t consider myself a person of a giddy nature.  By now, I am of a pretty hearty nature, reasonably practical and sane (though can dabble in whim and fancy on occasion, prone to candy shopping and kitty Instagramming).

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At the Strand, October 2019

But seeing my first book of poems on the shelves of the Strand was a thrill.

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Skill, Will And Practice

I have been making literary products since my twenties.  Though I started writing poetry in elementary school, it wasn’t because I was engaging in a commercial enterprise.  I was writing these pieces because I wanted to make something.  I wanted to create.  Did I know back then that I was engaging in art making?  I think I knew.

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Hands create

Certainly I’d not thought to call poems “literary products” during all my years of writing,  but that’s exactly what they are, especially when you take the next step of trying to get them published in print or online.   This is my currency as a poet.

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Scarf 2012

I have been on chapbook and/or full manuscript duty for some years now.  My first book of poems took about five years to put together and I’ve been on this road since.  The mechanics of putting together a book is mysterious even though I’ve done it before.

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My aunt kniiting in the Bronx, 2012

If I were knitting or crocheting a scarf I could say the stitches are the foundation and you could say the loose pages of poems are the bones of your manuscript.  This is a fair analogy.   Though I haven’t picked up my knitting needles in some years, when I did I knew where the craft came from: a combo of skill, will and practice.  But is that all there is?  No hocus pocus from up high or down below?

I’ve been working on my second book of poems for over a year with a current chapbook on the side.  It would be more romantic to say that Athena shot me with her arrow of war power, but I won’t know until I finish the book.

 

Did I mention

I was borne from the ashes

of the Old World

honor and blood

was my civilization

my small nation

a kingdom of big egos

even our bastards

are royal…

–excerpted from “I Used to Be Korean” by Jiwon Choi

 

I Am Four

I am a teacher of four year olds.  It has been my favorite age to teach ever since I started on the early childhood path, as far back to 1987 when I started as an intern at the Columbia Greenhouse Nursery School.

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Happy Birthday Jiwon

Our body holds memories of what happened to us when we were young, albeit some are murky and forget about chronological order.  But they are evidence of what we were going through at the time.   Living with my aunt and uncle, I felt powerless and lonely for my parents,  and though my cousins tried to comfort me, it was not enough.

Even as a little kid you know you’ve got little power to change your circumstances and that’s what really sticks in your craw, and what you remember most about being a child.

 

My life suffocates
Planting seeds of hate
I’ve loved, turned to hate
Trapped far beyond my fate

–Excerpted from “Harvester of Sorrow” by Metallica

 

 

 

 

 

Emerging

What does it mean to be an emerging writer? Is it that when you are new and full of hope?

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Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool

And when is it that you can stop “emerging”?  And who gets to decide?

I’m almost fifty, do I have enough time to evolve from my emerging status?  When can I shed the husk of amatuer?

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Max Beckman: “Woman with Mandolin in Yellow and Red”  (1950)

I talked to my publisher Bob Hershon who’s been publishing and writing for over fifty years about the plight of the emerging writer and he expertly noted that the moniker “new writer” is the better description.   With a fifteenth collection under his belt, I can’t disagree.

But how can one be a new writer in their fifth decade?

I am writing my second collection of poetry and I am slow going.   The first one took me over five years.  And I’m super proud of my work, but it doesn’t make writing the second book any easier––layers of complicated feelings and memories that works as the cruxt of your work, but often the obstacle of your progress.

Can you get out of your way?

It is yourself you seek

In a long rage,

Scanning through light and darkness

Mirrors, the page,

Where should reflected be

Your eyes and that thick hair,

That passionate look, that laughter.

––excerpted from “Man Alone” by Louise Bogan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing While Colored

I’ve been submitting my work to Rigorous, “a journal edited and written by people of color” for a little over a year.  It’s an online magazine with the flexibility and expansiveness to accept not only written work, but visual, audio and video arts.  So smart.

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Current issue of Rigorous

I’d not really considered submitting my work to a journal dedicated to writers of color and I wonder why.   Because it’s important this community we are creating through the simple act of creating and sharing our art.  As writing poetry is such a solitary craft, as much of art is, I find a sense of gratitude for this cohesive network of writers.  Sure it’s through the Internet, but it’s there.

In the January 2017 inaugural issue, one of the editors, Kenyatta JP Garcia, wrote of his affinity “towards the experimental, speculative and slipstream” in art, but that he’s mostly seen it done by “white folks”:

We rarely see the brown and black alternative approaches to art but it’s not for lack of trying. Most of us have been taught to ‘work twice as hard’ and many of us took it to heart…While not every piece is overtly political, every time we as the marginalized create something we are being political. Our arts speak of our experiences and worldviews. It speaks from a perspective that has been minimized and silenced. The act of creation is a push back against a system that has historically ignored us.

The act of creation is a push back against a system that has historically ignored us.

He continues to say that we need community and a support system in this “new era of American policy.”   This policy of Trump that we must resist and help dismantle.

St. Eugene of the Color Blind

What ever happened
to that that light-skinned girl
your brother was dating?
The one your father used to call
“the Mulatto” and we were too dumb to be
embarrassed for him, for us
because that was the eighties and we
were in high school and doped up
on wine coolers. Your mom liked to
comment on her good manners, not like
your Canarsie floozies who hogged the chairs
in the kitchen and mooched all her Shasta.

You liked to say Eugene was color blind
like you were bragging about it
like he was the only one in the clan who
could be that way

but he broke up with her
after all that
when it was clear it was going to be
a hassle every time
to get through checkpoint Charlie
down by Breezy.

He wasn’t better than us
just opposite:

a hypocrite.

      — by Jiwon Choi