Jay G. Ying reviewed Kim Hyesoon’s Autobiography of Death in The Poetry Review, Vol 109, No 2, Summer 2019.
Geoffrey O’Brien said the mixtape was the most widely practised American art form but surely that has now been superseded globally by internet memes? I never really got into cassette tapes or CDs, however over the last few years I have amassed an impressive compilation of internet memes waiting to be regifted. One popular meme involves Pitbull, the American rapper, and his self-ascribed moniker ‘Mr. Worldwide’, a reference to his jet-setting playboy persona: ‘Mr. Worldwide’ appears in all of his songs like a verbal stamp, a signature lyric. Here are ten worldwide signature lyrics Pitbull might, in an alternate timeline, appreciate; they are paired with the track listing from his sixth studio album Planet Pit which I absolutely would not recommend listening to.
Track 1: Give Me Everything
Nicole Brossard – Reconfiguration, from SeaMother, or the Bitteroded Chapter
Last year when I read Nicole Brossard for the first time, to loosely paraphrase from Anne Carson, I felt the kingdoms of my life slide down a few notches. Her elemental work reconfigured my crude understanding of poetry. I found it unnerving that I had been writing for so long without ever hearing – or listening to – anyone mention her work to me. What kind of literary environment had I exposed and cultivated myself in; further still, who had taught me how or what or who to read?
Track 2 – Castle Made of Sand
Kim Hyesoon – Seoul, The Book of the Dead
Can you believe a white critic asked in his review “Was I certain, when reading these poems, that they were Korean?”
Track 3 – Come n Go
Tanella Boni – The Future Has an Appointment with the Dawn
These poems are part of a long sequence called ‘Land of Hope’. Tanella Boni writes about the Ivory Coast at the turn of the new millennium; she distils those recent wounds of the country’s state and cultural violence and pours them into her translucent and mythopoetic topographies. In the introduction to Boni’s collection Honorée Fanonne Jeffers declares: “if it hadn’t been translated from the French, you never would have read it, even though Boni is a renowned West African writer who has published widely. This is where we start, because any Western reader will ask why when offered the work of a non-Western writer.”
Track 4 – Pause
Mei-Mei Berssenbrugge – A Placebo
“Fashion does that, giving shape and color to our inarticulate impulses.” I think something similar could be said of poetry; at the same time, I wish there were more poems about high fashion.
Track 5 – Hey Baby (Drop It to the Floor)
Aase Berg – Life Form
I love the gravitational density of this poem by Aase Berg. Her poems are often held together by their grotesque hallucinations, a preternatural need to break out of the page, to survive and to resist; her words fight back against the common language of the reader.
Track 6 – Where Do We Go
Layli Long Soldier – Ȟe Sápa, Two
As testimony, as document, as excavated archive, as innovation, as lyric, as language weaponised, as its own mixtape, as poems of love, as “Now / make room in the mouth / for grassesgrassesgrasses”, as antagonism, as revolution, as dismantling, as dramatic diction, as difficulty, as a debut – as all this and more, WHEREAS is a masterful collection I deeply admire and am continuously humbled by.
Track 7 – Rain Over Me
Alejandra Pizarnik – Diana’s Tree
Everyone was reading Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness in 2016. What were you doing if you were not reading Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness in 2016? Could you imagine a reality having not read Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness in 2016? On May 4th 2017 Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness, translated by Yvette Siegert, won that year’s poetry Best Translated Book Award beating out other collections by Szilárd Borbély, Michael Donhauser, Yideum Kim and Abdellatif Laâbi. None of these books had a UK publisher. I finally read Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness in 2018. I arrived late to the party; I paid for the transatlantic shipping fee. I felt the book slice through the noise in my skull like a hot poker. Why are there no prizes to reward translated poetry collections in my country? I think it must be because some important white people did not read Alejandra Pizarnik’s Extracting the Stone of Madness in 2016.
Track 8 – Shake Señora
Nancy Morejón – A Dream of Reason Produces Monsters
If I were to dream up my perfect poem I might dream of words as electrifying, as atavistic, as this poem by Nancy Morejón. She captures an innate, mesmeric power within each line, a battle-shout that defiantly reaches out into all the corners of the soul.
Track 9 – International Love
Dunya Mikhail – Tablets IV
Dunya Mikhail’s ‘Iraqi haikus’ seem traced directly out of the cuneiform symbols one could find carved into ancient clay tablets. Whenever I read these scrolls of verse I am in awe of their capacity for hope and delight. To engage with them is like stepping back into another time. To engage with them is to undergo translation. In Her Feminine Sign is the first book of hers she has written both in Arabic and in English at the same time: not translated per se but twice written. Her book is being published almost simultaneously in Lebanon (Dar Al Raffidain, June), USA (New Directions, July), UK (Carcanet, September); something about that feels very radical to me.
Track 10 – Something for the DJs
Earlier this year I tried to write a short story based on this poem by Qiu Jin. I went to great efforts to memorise it, to let it come into my life. The story was not very good. It felt too forced, too obvious. Yet even after I had abandoned it I realised the poem had carved a special place in my mind so that now, in one way or another, I always feel the faint presence of this poem linger like an old friend in a dream whenever I sit down to write. I cannot shake this narrative off. Depending on the time of the year I shift my allegiances to various lines of the poem, always going back and forth. But as I write this my favourite lines must be:
Ashamed, I have done nothing; not one victory to my name.
I simply make my war horse sweat. Grieving over my native land
hurts my heart.
Jay G Ying is a writer, critic and translator based in Edinburgh, Scotland. He is a contributing editor for The White Review. His publications include The White Review, Ambit, The London Magazine and The Poetry Review among others. Recently he was selected by Mary Jean Chan as a winner of the 2019 New Poets Prize. Wedding Beasts (2019), a pamphlet, is published from Bitter Melon 苦瓜.