For readers of Myung Mi Kim’s work, the publication of Penury in its long form (Omnidawn, 2009) is an unlikely chance to view a poem on the move. Unlikely because the thinking might hold that the publication of a full-length collection is the culmination of the work, rather than another instance of its form. However, with Kim’s book this is arguably not the case. When two small presses issued portions of this project in 2006 (From Penury, published by belladonna* books, and River Antes, by Atticus/Finch), readers were met each time not with a draft, but another countenance of the work. So, too, with Penury. This fact becomes abundantly clear in even a cursory comparison of these books: while an entire section disappears from the poem “fell” in the most recent publication, perhaps more startling is the addition of a diacritical mark resembling an end-repeat in musical notation ( “:|” ) that surfaces incessantly at the left-hand margin, but was nowhere to be found in the belladonna* version. What’s more, the similarities between River Antes and Penury might accurately be described as donation rather than drafting (along the lines of Rachel Blau DuPlessis’s “donor” system in her long poem, Drafts, where text from previous sections of the poem is repurposed in subsequent sections); even though there is clearly some revision from one book to the next, in many ways these are decidedly different books that happen to share some of the same materials.
A way is open(ed), a hole is made — Myung Mi Kim, Dura
In an interview, the poet Myung Mi Kim explains her prosody as a temporal/spatial concept, existing in “the space between time and space” that can be understood only through an experience of the “sensorium” — when “all your senses are involved in understanding.” There is clearly much that needs to be unpacked from such a statement. What does she mean by this inter-temporal/inter-spatial site where her poetry is located? Why is her prosody — her (mis/dis)use of meters, lines, rhythms, beats, sounds, poetic melodies — so “different” and “difficult” (two comments that Kim admits she has received most frequently), and what does this say about her concept of the nature of poetry?
As she puts it in a 2008 interview with Lynn Keller, Myung Mi Kim approaches writing as a notational process, “working through accretion and sedimentation of material.” Penury is a text (and language) of lived experience that emerges through the dynamic sequences of motion and change, thus providing a space for the (re)telling of multiple narratives.
Myung Mi Kim said, “Let’s make lists of all of our discursive writing and look at those lists.” I began a list soon lost under piles. In the intervening years the bit of edification, the muzzle, gag and tethers of training that determined much of what fell to that list have remained of interest while the sign of the “discursive” under which the list accreted has become increasingly perplexing.
When the feminist poetry press Kelsey St. published Myung Mi Kim’s 1991 epic work Under Flag, a publicity blurb described it as a book that “documents” the “struggle to learn English,” an experience, the blurb goes on to say, that “resembles the experience of innumerable other US citizens in a century that has been shaped by wars and vast human migrations.”