As the Postmodern era moves on (or ends, no one is really sure), poetry suffers from an identity crisis. The identity narrative is over -- no one believes in a single, monolithic self thanks to the well spring of Poststructural theories.... [more]
As the Postmodern era moves on (or ends, no one is really sure), poetry suffers from an identity crisis. The identity narrative is over -- no one believes in a single, monolithic self thanks to the well spring of Poststructural theories. Nobody looks to poets as spiritual guides anymore -- they are as neurotic as the rest of us as they search out their relationships to the world. In fact, no one really believes in language anymore -- meanings flicker then slip away, never quite finding stability. It seems like a dismal time for poetry, until you consider the work of Myung Mi Kim. From the junkyard of Postmodern poetry, Kim creates lyrical, difficult pieces that embody fragmentation so skillfully that perhaps new meanings may be found.
Kim's verse may simply reflect her own experiences with fragmentation. She exists in several cultures at once. Her family immigrated to the United States when she was nine, the Korean War still a fresh memory. Growing up in the South, she recalls a tradition-steeped culture that had been compromised by years of American occupation. She remembers the official military language that lingered after the war. She remembers the tenuous cease-fire and the continuing threat of renewed fighting with the North. And she remembers her relocation to new soil and the painful reconstruction of an entirely new cultural identity. Kim reflects all these struggles in the collaged, fractured language of her work.
Kim refuses to use "I" as an expression of identity because she believes the self can never be one entity; it's a constantly shifting constellation of memories, languages, and experiences. Her poems are splintered songs that move associatively through images and locations. She does not write linear narratives. The voice of the poet is in fact a synthesis of disparate voices: a Korean child, an American soldier, an immigrant -- even silence.
In her first book of poetry, "Under Flag," Kim allows these silences to speak for gaps in memory, gaps in experience, and gaps in identity. Blank spaces on the page mark abrupt transitions between the "official" voice of the American bureaucrat and Korean folksongs, childhood memories, and lyrical nonsense. She undermines our sense that any kind of history or identity can represent the truth. In the end, language itself is suspect.
Kim holds an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa and is the winner of the National Poetry Series. Her books include "Under Flag," "The Bounty," and "Dura." She is presently Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. [show less]