Hardly War, Don Mee Choi's major second collection, defies history, national identity, and militarism. Using artifacts from Choi's father, a professional photographer during the Korean and Vietnam wars, she combines memoir, image, and opera to explore her paternal relationship and heritage. Here poetry and geopolitics are inseparable twin sisters, conjoined to the belly of a warring empire.
"Deliberately and excitingly difficult in both its style and its subject matter, Don Mee Choi’s second collection, “Hardly War,” sees its author operating as an archaeologist as much as a poet. Choi’s use of hybrid forms — poetry, memoir, opera libretto, images and artifacts from her father’s career as a photojournalist in the Korean and Vietnam Wars — lets her explore themes of injustice and empire, history and identity, sifting through the detritus of family, translation, propaganda and dislocation." -- by Kathleen Rooney in NYTIMES Book Review
"Language is no longer in service to communication, and Choi releases control of it, willingly becoming hardly author. Fitting a language of race=nation, it is impossible for Hardly War to create boundaries and impossible for it to be whole." -- Michelle Lewis in Drunken Boat
"Choi’s process of dealing with personal and global words and ideas are extraordinarily relevant in the 2016. Of particular note is the trauma that such tragedy brings, and asking how do humans manage trauma, both in the present and lifetimes beyond?" -- Greg Bem in Berfrois
...if one were to look for the most innovative and challenging uses of photography in literature today, I would point to a handful of contemporary poets who are finding ways to turn visual images into poetic vocabulary, notably Anne Carson, Christian Hawkey, Susan Howe, and Leslie Scalapino.” Today, I would add a number of names to that list, one of which is Don Mee Choi, whose new book of poems and photographs Hardly War (Seattle & NY: Wave Books, 2016) I have been reading and rereading for a week now. Choi pulls off quote a feat by blending several languages, photographs, and drawings into a unified whole. --Terry Pitts, 3/31/2016, Vertigo
In “trying to fold race into geopolitics and geopolitics into poetry,” Choi succeeds mightily. The book, divided into three sections—“Hardly War,” “Purely Illustrative,” and “Hardly Opera”—is a collage of reproduced photographs, musical scales, and formally innovative poems. PW
"is refreshingly strange" by Alex Gallo-Brown in CityArts
"...is challenging but powerful political poetry" by Rich Smith in The Stranger
"Don Mee Choi details the interior of the life of a young girl in the middle of war. This is no mere reduction or retelling. The metaphor stands that we are all hardly adults. Perhaps hardly human…If Hardly War can teach us anything, it is that perspective is everything." Benjamin Champagne, New Pages
Book page image provided by Wave Books. Photos of my reading by Laura Parker (lauraparker.com).
"Cameraman, run to my twin twin zone. A girl's exile excels beyond excess. Essence excels exile. Something happens to the wanted girl. Nothing happens to the unwanted girl. The morning news is exciting." A debut volume from poet, translator, artist and activist Don Mee Choi. Here translation, aberration, mobility and movement corrupt the would-be verities of the world's hegemonic codes.
Paul Cunningham made a film of my poem: "Twin Flower, Master, Emily," read by poet Valerie Mejer Caso, translated by Valerie Mejer Caso and Josefa Gonzalez.
“The Morning News is Excitingblends provocative politics with urgent writing.” – Lily Hoang, HTMLGIANT, July 2010
“The various forms throughout the different sections are woven with many disparate sources, including books regarding South Korea/ U.S. relations, and quotes from Spivak, Deleuze and Guattari, Fanon, Dickinson and Freud. The author herself slides skillfully out of one guise and into another. This variation presents an oblique solution to the problem of Empire as the one. Its welcome antithesis is here in shape-shifting multiples.” – Caitie Moore, Cutbank Reviews, Nov 2010
Don Mee Choi’s first book of poetry, The Morning News Is Exciting, is a seriously inventive manipulation of language, line, and sentence, grappling with divisions created by war and imperial conquest. Choi delves deeply into questions of translation, violence, and the potential for beauty in a gruesome world. – John Pluecker, The Quarterly Conversation, June 2011
“Choi translates feminist politics into an experimental poetry that demilitarizes, deconstructs, and decolonizes any master narrative.” – Craig Santos Perez
"In this book, Choi transits and translates the doubleness of self, kin, home and nation shattered by past colonialism and by continuing imperialism and capitalist predation." - Minnie Bruce Pratt
"‘Follow orderly obsessions’, one of Choi’s poems commands: these obsessions are war, language, translation, dislocation." - Dougal McNeill, Overland
"In The Morning News, language’s loaded relationships with empire, discourse, and gender can never be broken, only twisted and subverted." - Joel Scott, Cordite
Petite Manifesto (chapbook)
Published by Vagabond Press (2014), dB series 1 edited by Pam Brown, designed by Chris Edwards.
Petite Manifesto consists of poems about grammar, translation, immigration, debt, Gulliver, and Betty, including an explanation on Betty’s home.
"Poetry is many things, depending on the poet. It is, in the case of this book, an act of decolonisation. But can a manifesto also be a poem?" - Elena Gomez, Overland, Feb 2016
"Petite Manifestoalone is worth the purchase of the entire chapbook series. A fascinating, insightful exploration of the theme of the economic and conceptual exploitation of Korean women during and after the Cold War, Choi’s poems are direct interventions in the representations of Asianness and femininity and their economic and political consequences." –Ali Alizadeh, Overland, Jan 2015
“From the outset, the author delivers an associative and punning, politicised, carnival-esque prose style.” – Dan Disney, Cordite, March 2015
"Brown turned me on to poets like Don Mee Choi whose scorching, and often very funny, Petite Manifesto was anything but in its harangue of capitalism, gender and colonialism." - Liam Ferney, Southerly, January 2016
Freely Frayed,ᄏ=q, & Race=Nation were three talks given by poet Don Mee Choi at the Race & Creative Writing Conference 2014 at the University of Montana, Missoula, and at the 2014 AWP conference in Seattle, related to her translation work, especially with Korean poet Kim Hyesoon.
“Don Mee Choi’s new pamphlet of talks on translation, race, and politics is a radical text... [she] configures a counter-colonial co-body, an unknown zone, a zone made of ghost-twinship, translation, decomposition, trash and sound.” Reviewed by Joyelle McSweeney in Fanzine, 2015
"The monstrous body remains a vital figure in these poems, and Kim’s speaker assumes imaginative and precise postures of disfigurement." --Publishers Weekly
"Poor Love Machine exists, exploring the way extreme states of dispossession can co-exist with fortitude, the grotesque with tenderness. Kyesoon’s explores an outsider position where voices merge easily with their other, where no identity is fully in possession of itself.." by Alexis Almeida in Asymptote
Praises: "Kim Hyesoon is Korea's most important living poet and by far its most imaginative writer... she and Don Mee Choi have become the most important writer-translator partnership in Korea in the new millennium." Bruce Fulton, Young-Bin Min Chair in Korean Literature and Literary Translation, University of British Columbia
"Kim Hyesoon portrays a panorama of hovering love-hate feelings for the birthing body and for the cruelty of existence, creating an expansively conceived and dizzyingly borderless cosmic geography." Aase Berg
"I first heard Kim Hyesoon at Poetry Parnassus, the global festival of poetry which took place in London’s Olympic year. Kim Hyesoon shared the stage with Seamus Heaney. It was the last time I heard Seamus Heaney read in public and the first time I heard Kim Hyesoon, and even at the time it felt momentous.... the birdlike Kim Hyesoon wove a pattern of poems, so strangely compelling and curious, and utterly unlike anything I had heard before.” Sasha Dugdale, Editor of Modern Poetry in Translation
"Don Mee Choi's dynamic translation brings Hyesoon's miserable, beautiful body into English pungent and fresh, both alive and dead. Her informative introduction provides readers in English the context to interpret these poems as responses to patriarchal, neoliberal, neocolonial control, at once resistance to and inscription of the trauma inflicted by that control." Molly Weigel, translator of In The Moremarrow by Oliverio Girondo
"In Kim, the body is inextricably and painfully knitted into the industrial landscape...In this topology, darkness governs. But Kim sides with darkness." Joel Scott, Cordite
"While most people seem blinded by Capital, [Kim Hyesoon] shines her spotlight on things that are dark and absurd, the comic and horrifying at the same time." Swedish Public Television
“In Kim Yideum‘s elegant and grotesque poetry, objective cool, violence and despairing megalomania all rage with the crystal-clear bitterness of vulnerability. When you read her beautiful, terrifying poems, you will go to pieces.”
– Aase Berg
“Kim Yi-Deum’s poetry is the landscape of confession. The confession flows inside the landscape and the landscape soars inside the confession. These two elements of her poetry are interconnected in the way eros gets pulled up to the divine place. Her poetry appears as poetry, it also appears as prose. As poetry, it’s polyphonic, and as prose, it’s defiant. Her poetry is the theater of multiple personality. You hear the voices of hundreds of people, hundreds of things. These naked living things become her poetic subjects. In each poem, the different sensations of each body are invented. She punishes herself and accepts her own unsightly, gutless face. Her poetry is engaged in the difficult process of discovering the other inside her. Her rhythm, which emerges from the fishnet of interconnections, bites power and sets her free. ”
"Contradictory and self-aware, she engages our critical thinking, and is concerned particularly with the body and the marginal." -- Johan W.W. Zeiser in Words Without Borders
Read Kim Yideum's poem "I Hate Uniforms" in PEN America
Poets: Yasuhiro Yotsumoto, Ming Di, Kim Hyesoon, Shuntaro Tanikawa
Translators: Yasuhiro Yotsumoto, Ming Di, and Don Mee Choi
Renshi is a modern version of the traditional Japanese linked poem, Renku. As the 70th anniversary for the end of the World War II approaches and the politicians prepare the ‘historic speech’ to be delivered on August 15, 2015, four poets from Japan, China and Korea decide to have a Trilingual Renshi session, linking themselves to each other through translation and e-mails. The result is a mandala of 36 poems with the shared themes of ‘Sea’, ‘Rice’, and ‘Sun’. It is at once a celebration of humanity, which transcends nation, race, and even language, and the poetic action for the “resistance against the world’s entropy.”
"Experimental Korean poet Kim Hyesoon’s work is shocking, liberating, brutal, grotesque, burlesque, gurlesque. Published by the aptly-named Action Books, Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream has Kim’s longtime translator Don Mee Choi bringing this into an English that will not only jolt readers, but hopefully jolt them out of a stagnant vision of what Korean and Asian poetry represents: We return as hot pigs / We return for our final act / The act in which our fingers even before we lie down in our coffins" - Erica Mena, ALTA Blog
"Kim Hyesoon’s fearless poetics suggests a grossly visceral alternative to the capitalist world. These poems conjure both feelings of desire and disgust, awe and repulsion. I want to read more. I need it. Please stop. Don’t stop. You make me sick." - Christine Shan Shan Hou, Hyperallergic, April 2014
"...in Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream, and we often are left asking ourselves who is acting on whom, who is speaking for whom. Choi’s translations excel, in fact, in how she allows the language to perplex us; she is unafraid of sacrificing the coherence of English grammar if she can maintain a trace of Kim’s linguistic play. In the book’s opening poem, “Dear Choly, from Melan,” Kim not only personifies melancholy, she splits it into two separate and not always compatible, nor complementary, beings:
Melan covered herself with a cloud, Choly with a shadow
Melan endured the wind, Choly clung to the sea
Melan said It’s flesh-scented, Choly said It’s water-scented
Melan disliked sunlight, Choly’s feet were cold
Melan didn’t eat, Choly didn’t drink
I was absent with Melan ate, also when Choly drank water
The book consists of selections from Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers, All the Garbage of the World, Unite!, and Sorrowtoothpaste Mirrorcream.
"Since 1980, Kim Hyesoon has broken the rigid gender traditions of Korean poetry. Unconfined by the so-called “feminine” subjects of love and loss, she creates a seething, imaginative under- and over-world where myth and politics, the everyday and the fabulous, bleed into each other. Her enormously energetic poems are full of dizzying transitions and tonal shifts" – Sean O'Brien, Independent.
"[Kim] Hyesoon’s poetry is like nothing I’ve ever read before." - Katherine Stansfield, Poetry Wales.
All the Garbage of the World, Unite! (Translation)
“...Choi’s translation takes us someplace new in language. The book is filled with unforgettable turns of phrase, visionary solutions to difficult language problems, and a flow of individual poems that unites in a seamless whole.” - Stryk Prize selection committee.
Manhole Humanity, the final poem in Kim Hyesoon’s collection All the Garbage of the World, Unite! excellently translated by Don Mee Choi and published by Action Books in 2011, is a poem of such life-consuming, life-barfing, life-giving, life-gulping intensity, I’ve fallen into its hole trying to choose a line or two from which to begin talking about it. - Ellen Welcker, The Quarterly Conversation, Fall 2012
"Miraculous weaponary! Miraculous translations! This kind of undomesticated engagement and lawlessness and risk and defiance and somatic exorbitance posits a world and a relation to the world where everything excluded is included--the animal and the vegetal, the molten and the mineral, the gaseous and the liquid, not to mention shame, disgust, failure, terror, raunch. The final poem "Manhole Humanity" deserves its place alongside Cesaire's "Notebook of a Return to the Native Land" or Ginsberg's "Howl" or Inger Christensen's It. Kim Hyesoon's new book is armament and salve, shield and medicinal chant. It's here to protect us. - Christian Hawkey
Mommy Must Be a Fountain of Feathers (Translation)
In Kim Hyesoon's saturated political fables, horror is packed inside cuteness, cuteness inside horror. Interior and exterior, political and intimate, human and animal, agent and victim become interchangeable, interbreeding elements. No subjecthood is fixed in this microscape of shifts, swellings, tender subjugations and acts of cruel selflessness.
"Kim’s poems, whether lineated or in prose, whether mythic or idiosyncratic (though rarely only one of these for long), reside at precisely those places between what the body is and what it is not, between the corporeal machinery by which meaning is generated and the meanings which thus emerge, tethered to the body by a string of cat guts and vibrating words." Jessica Lawson, Jacket2
Read Kim Hyesoon's poem "Why Can't We" in Guernica
Poems by Ch'oe Sung-ja, Kim Hyesoon, and Yi Yon-ju
Anxiety of Words is the first anthology of Korean women's poetry that challenges one of Korea's most enduring literary traditions: that “yoryu” (female) poetry must be gentle and subservient. By using innovative language, and vividly depicting women's lives and struggles within an often repressive society, these three contemporary poets defiantly insist that poetry can be part of social change—indeed, that it must be. Ch'oe Sung-ja, Kim Hyesoon, and Yi Yon-ju have written unforgettable poems that now, thanks to Don Mee Choi's translations, are available to English-speaking readers for the first time. With a lengthy introduction on the history of women's poetry in Korea, and biographical notes on the three poets, this volume is an eye-opening exploration for any reader interested in Korea, poetry, and contemporary women's literature.
“Don Mee Choi, a fine poet herself, has translated both the spirit and words of these outsiders and experimenters into poetry that is just as striking to English-speakers as it was to Koreans under the dictatorship of Park Chung Hee when it was first written. Anxiety of Words has widened the conversation of Korean poetry to include the voice of Korean women—a voice that needs to be heard.” —American Poet, Spring 2007
“The gravity of the situation in Anxiety of Words is unmistakable. Choi’s work renders each human voice distinctly, with a consistent precision and grace that makes the struggles of a people feel personal. It’s a thrilling achievement, and hopefully only the beginning of Choi’s presentation of these extraordinary poets.” – Travis Nichols, The Brooklyn Rail, Spring 2007
“These poems force me to imagine cities I've never visited, and to see those cities echoed throughout the landscape… They teach me how to listen, and to look.” –Jamison Crabtree, DIAGRAM, 2016