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Monica Youn's Barter

I read Monica Youn's first collection of poetry Barter this afternoon, avoiding work and in a funk.



Youn's poems are short and filled with evocative images and situations. I like the poems for their wonderfully condensed language and elliptical references. One thing I noticed about the collection is the dispersed geography of the settings. There are poems that reference Alaska, the San Francisco Bay Area, West Houston, and so on. This dispersal makes me wonder about the kind of local spaces traced in the poems as well as a larger claim the poems might make about the United States as a nation.

Here's one short poem in the collection:
Labor Day

A glass of tap water that tasted of bruise;
her bronze-stockinged feet overflowed her white shoes.
What is the taste of bruise? How is this image of a woman's feet connected to Labor Day? I think perhaps there is a play with the title, doubling the holiday of Labor Day with the day of giving birth (birthing labor). In that sense, the overflowing feet and bruises might suggest the physical swellings and pains of pregnancy and labor, connected obliquely to laboring as working and the waning understandings of Labor Day as a celebration of laborers.

Another poem from the collection, "Stealing The Scream," is available online at poets.org.

And some newer work, "Three Poems," is available at Guernica Magazine.
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