Monday, January 29, 2018

Cathy Park Hong

Ruins of Shangdu (=Xanadu), Inner Mongolia, China

[Image source: .]

My Yellow Steppe of Xanadu, the summer residence of ancient Khans.
My cool and pleasant Kaiping Xanadu
   (from the lament of Toghon Temur Khan)

I recently got involved in a debate on the British Poets forum about populist poetry (in various senses of that term) and I found myself mentioning the Gurlesque and institutional anxiety to exclude the "Plague Ground"*, and anyway I somehow ended up surfing the web on the US side and I started to read some of Cathy Park Hong's poetry.

[*Joyelle McSweeney's term. ]

She's the kind of poet who has never meant a rush on this side of the Atlantic (at least not in the poetry communities I know about... but see below). Anyway here are some of her poems. Whenever I'm able to work out which of her three books they appear in, I've specified that.

Ga       The fishy consonant,
Na     The monkey vowel.
Da     The immigrant’s tongue
          as shrill or guttural.

Overture of my voice like the flash of bats.
The hyena babble and apish libretto.

Piscine skin, unblinking eyes.
Sideshow invites foreigner with the animal hide.   

(The opening lines of "Zoo")

from Translating Mo'um (2002)

"Body Builder"
"All the Aphrodisiacs"
"Hottentot Venus"

Dance Dance Revolution (2007)
From descriptions this sounds like CPH's most adventurous book, mostly in an invented polyglot lingua franca.
"Language Guide":
"St Petersburg Hotel Series: 1. Services"
"St Petersburg Hotel Series: 2. Preparation for Winter in the St. Petersburg Arboretum"
"St Petersburg Hotel Series: 3. The Fountain Outside the Arboretum"
"St Petersburg Hotel Series: 4. Atop the St Petersburg Dome"

Here's a podcast about the book, including readings of several poems:

from Engine Empire (2012)
There's a lot of on-line reviews of this book, most being eager to summarize its intriguing narrative frames. The three sequences are "The Ballad of Our Jim", "Shangdu, My Artful Boomtown!" and "The World Cloud".

The review I liked best was by J Zenoni -- richly interpretive but also off-message, the way a good review should be -- for instance when it refers to Wendy Cope's poem "My Lover", a poem I haven't read for a very long time. That seems to spin the populism wheel again, in a weird sort of way.

"Our Jim"
"Ballad in A"
"Ballad of Infanticide"
"A Wreath of Hummingbirds"
"Engines within the Throne"

Other poems I've found (not known which of the above collections, if any):


"They Come"

(To some extent this is about Notorious B.I.G and Tupac Shakur...)

"Morning Sun"

Cathy's challenging and upfront essay "Delusions of Whiteness in the Avant-Garde" has been much discussed.

She contends that mantras of innovative poetry like renouncing subject and voice, the whole post-identity thing, don't make sense for poets of colour. And she adds:

But even in their best efforts in erasure, in complete transcription, in total paratactic scrambling, there is always a subject—and beyond that, the specter of the author's visage—and that specter is never, no matter how vigorous the erasure, raceless.  

Here's what she says about the avant-garde's stereotypical prejudices about poets who do "identity politics".

To be an identity politics poet is to be anti-intellectual, without literary merit, no complexity, sentimental, manufactured, feminine, niche-focused, woefully out-of-date and therefore woefully unhip, politically light, and deadliest of all, used as bait by market forces’ calculated branding of boutique liberalism. Compare that to Marxist—and often male—poets whose difficult and rigorous poetry may formally critique neoliberalism but is never “just about class” in the way that identity politics poetry is always “just about race,” with little to no aesthetic value. 

She also argues that poets of colour played more significant roles in both the early and later avant-garde than tends to be acknowledged by the avant-garde's white-heavy audiences and teachers.

And here's a follow-up from the UK perspective by Sandeep Parmar

This seems like a good moment to link to Kenan Malik's article about the British Empire and its apologists, in today's NYRB:

....Opal of opus,
beamy in sotto soot, neon hibiscus bloom,
Behole! 'Tan Hawaiian Tanya' billboard.she your
lucent Virgil, den I tekkum over es
talky Virgil.want some tea? some pelehuu?

.I tren me talk box to talk you
Merrikkens say "purdy".no goods only phrases,
Betta da phrase, "purdier" da experience, I tellim
"Me vocation your vacation"


...Menny 'Merikken dumplings unhinge dim
talk holes y ejaculate oooh y hot-diggity. dis
Be de shee-it. ...but gut ripping done to erect dis Polis,
We expoiting menny aborigini to back tundra county.
But betta to scrape dat fact unda history rug.
so shh.

I usta move around like Innuit lookim for sea
I'mma double migrant. Ceded from Coreo, ceded from
'Merikka, ceded en ceded until now I seizem
dis sizable Mouthpiece role.

(extracts from "Roles")

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