Friday, March 5, 2010


Kim, Myung Mi. Dura. Ed. 2nd. New York, NY: Nightboat Books, Inc., 2008.

Kim’s book explores the process of immigrants’ language acquisition, specifically those of Asian descent assimilating into American culture. The collection’s structure, in many ways, mirrors that process. The first section, titled “Cosmography,” contains mostly fragments, sometimes isolating single words in the fashion of a vocabulary lesson; for example: “Bora barium buffer” (6). Likewise, the section includes translations with handwritten, Korean symbols in a column with the English equivalent in type-script next to it. As the collection progresses, the poet provides readers with less fragmented language. But as a narrative begins to accumulate, concepts of global capitalism, imperialism, and cultural/linguistic hegemony associated with the American idiom begin to surface. One can “Name a capital. Name a city” (56) and find a “Guatemalan, Korean, African-American sixteen year old working check-out lanes” (67), which no doubt, is the expressed “value of A over B,” or the “Dominant relation…of owners of commodities” (65) over those who travel to the United States in search of a better life, but without the necessary language skills to express themselves. Kim, by juxtaposing contemporary contexts next to lines such as “translate: the first shipload of African slaves was landed in Jamestown” (62) makes clear the book's rhetorical stance with regard to global capitalism and the slave trade of America’s past. As far as aesthetics, Kim incorporates several unique elements; she creates poems that mimic textbooks or tests one would encounter while learning a second language so as to be nationalized in a foreign country. In one instance, there is a fill-in-the-blank: “______________ arrived in America” (61), in another we find a series of enumerated points: “9.8 One of the first words understood in English: stupid” (73), and in another poem, an actual translation test: “Translate:/ 1. Praise beasts and their worthy marks./ 2. Wear a red scarf while grinding grains” (91). Finally, in the last section, titled “Hummingbird,” Kim employs non-normative usage of the bracket character in order to both isolate discrete units of text while simultaneously creating a foreign syntax within the dominant language. For example: “Visions of the form] [bloody mess of the city” (96). In the end, Dura seeks the “Modulation, raising, slackening of the voice” (92) in an effort to forward a new, more egalitarian proposition: “constant translation” and “sound combinations” that remain “nameless” outside of a sphere where “capital grows” (72).

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