I Write, Therefore I am Korean

My second book, out now from Hanging Loose Press

My first book, One Daughter is Worth Ten Sons, took me about five years to put together. This second book, I Used To Be Korean, took a little bit less time. But, golly gee, book writing just takes a long time, huh?

I wonder at how people put out all their volumes and collections. I am amazed at the speed of their output and it brings me to wonder about my snail’s pace. I do honor and respect my output for what it is: I am a preschool teacher who up ’til last July was trying to take care of my Old Ladies. But they are both gone now and “every day is like Sunday; every day is silent and gray.” That should leave me more time to write, you say? Well, in theory, yes it should. But it’s not working out that way.

I think about Harley Elliott, a poet whom I trust to set me straight on the way of our finite human condition. I do mean the way we deal with being alive and how we make the most of our time on earth. Harley has published 11 books of poetry with two books out in 2020!: The Mercy of Distance (Hanging Loose Press) and Creature Way (Spartan Press) so he must know about finding the way to more writing.

I think of Bob Hershon who wrote about fifteen books throughout his writing life. His work is a body of knowledge connoting confidence, a savvy outlook on life with little second guessing. I admire that kind of knowing. Bob’s way of seeing the world. You may not be born with it, but it can be borne within you. It’s been almost two weeks since Bob passed and I am just coming to terms with knowing that we won’t be hanging out in his backyard, sipping on reasonably priced wine whilst ducking wayward acorns from those sassy Boerum Hill squirrels.

I know I will honor his memory and legacy by writing as much poetry as I can.

In memorium, Bob Hershon, poet, publisher, friend and eternal student of the School of Keep On Keeping On:

A Bad Dinner

by Bob Hershon

They gave me a bad dinner, not to make me a stranger
–Betsy Sheridan’s journal

They pelted me with rocks, not to take their love as my due

They burned my poems and papers, not to permit my self-love to

mount

They denounced me to the FBI, so I would not grow smug, in

comfort

and take their good will as a given

They pulled out my eyelashes, so I would not blink in amazment

They blew their noses in my socks, so I would not strut

They carved my name on a headstone, not to forget that I was

one of theirs, and they begin to carve the dates

Genesis

Old poems are where new poems come from.

                                                 ––Jiwon Choi

 

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Genesis

While rummaging through folders of old poems, I found the genesis of a current poem I wrote about my mother, and her diagnosed dementia.  Most of the work that I generate about my mother is not for public consumption, with the exception of the published pieces that hopefully provide a little insight.

This ‘mother’ poem was the spawn of two poems I’d written back when it became clear that there was something wrong with her mental capacity.    Both poems work to piece together bits of what I know and imagine of my mother’s childhood.

 

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Parent One: The Law of Gravity

 

 

She was diagnosed with this affliction back in 2011.   But I suspect that there was something wrong with her way before.  I am certain she had a strain of PTSD that was neither diagnosed nor addressed while I was growing up with her.

Both of my parents had it.  How could they not?  They’d lived through a war, had their family members sent to work camps, killed or drop dead from disease.

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Parent Two:  Knowing This is the End

I probably have it too.  Though I don’t dwell on it too often, it’s good to be aware of one’s fault lines and where they be.  I am not immune.

The poem these two old ones birthed has been published in the current issue, #109, of Hanging Loose Magazine:

…so what I have always known is true––you were a mother made up entirely of memories…

–from You Live in the Space Behind Your Eyes

Incidentally, this issue also features two remarkable poets who I just found out about: Jose Angel Araguz and Carole Bernstein.  They are worth a read.

 

 

 

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