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23 June 2012 @ 04:22 am
It's been awhile since I've read some poetry books, so I thought I'd tackle a few in the next couple of weeks. First up is Jason Koo's Man on Extremely Small Island (C&R Press, 2009), a debut collection that sketches out a psychological and emotional terrain both mundane and estranged.

The poems were especially striking to me because they offered glimpses into a mindset that is completely different from my own. The poems emanate from a decidedly heterosexual male viewpoint, turning around topics such as the sexual attraction of women's bodies, the intimacy of seedy affairs and motel sex, and baseball. The poems are also metafictional in a way, steeped in cultural references to literature and other cultural media, with some poems riffing on the work of film auteur Wong Kar Wai, for example, or the title poem's play on a cartoon by Mordillo.

Some of the poems tackle the topic of being a Korean American man, with some commentary on the expectations of parents ("Why Can't You Meet a Nice Korean Girl") and more elusive exploration of racialized identity in unexpected regions such as in "Korean American Figure in the Midwest," which begins:
And then, I entered my dark period. This,
though I was dating a girl named Faith. I kept
acting like a "downer." My emails grew
very short. Questions came at me in rhymes:
"Are you mad?" "Are you sad"? I would
weight these rhymes against my experience,
and they were teacups. Crestfallen,
why couldn't anyone ask if I was crestfallen?

Perhaps my favorite poem in the collection is the final one, "Bon Chul Koo and the Hall of Fame," centering on writerly identity and the father-son relationship. There's something really touching about the juxtaposition of two roadtrips that the son takes with the father, both involving baseball. The earlier one is a tour of Carolina League baseball stadiums, yoked to the son's interest in writing The Great American Novel. The later trip involves a stop at the Baseball Hall of Fame and the father's excitement at recreating family history through significant baseball moments chronicled in the museum. After getting his camera ready, the father photographs the son in front of various exhibits:
         He returns, triumphant, then has me move station
to station to create a storybook of our lives against
    the century: first, Cy Young (a Cleveland Spider),
Bob Feller (ace of the last Cleveland Champs
    in '48), Mickey Mantle (my favorite legend as a kid),
and then the Thurman Munson Yankees of the 70s,
    the team my parents followed when they lived in New York
and I was born.
The son's realization that his father is getting old and that these moments he spends with him, despite the awkward silences in the car ride, are precious, is beautifully rendered in the language of the poem without an excess of sentimentality. The poem's trajectory, ending with the suggestion that these two Asian men might be seen disparagingly by the museum staff member closing up, also frames the father-son relationship in the uneasy context of an America that sees them only as "Asians with a camera." That phrase ends the poem, interestingly without a period at the end. I don't know if that absence is intentional or not, but it works for me as a kind of open-endedness to the collection, with that missing final punctuation as literally the last thing in the volume (aside from the page number at the bottom of the page).
Current Mood: sleepysleepy
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