Has American poetry become more engaged with public events, more politically relevant, in the opening years of the twenty-first century? That is the claim made by The New American Poetry of Engagement, an anthology edited by Ann Keniston and Jeffrey Gray and published in 2012.
Kimchi, a Korean side dish of fermented vegetables and spices, is perhaps best known as a polarizing condiment, engendering love, hatred, and YouTube videos of screaming children trying it for the first time. It is also serves as inspiration for the work of Margaret Rhee, a feminist new media artist and scholar. In The Kimchi Poetry Project, she asks, "What feminist methods, histories, and stories can we unearth and create through the poetics of kimchi?" (Rhee, "Installation - The Kimchi Poetry Project"). Rhee's innovative work explores the possibilities at the intersections of kimchi, tweets, and poetry.
After publishing her poem "A Feminist History of Kimchi" in the anthology Conversations at the Wartime Cafe (2011), Rhee was invited to a poetry reading where she asked the audience to make "kimchi poetry" with her. The Kimchi Poetry Project was born. Rhee's participatory poetry venture includes a series of multimedia installations and objects.
“Lamenta,” the longest series in Myung Mi Kim’s fourth collection, Commons (2002), is structured after the metonic cycle, a calendrical unit of nineteen years. A lunisolar measure, the metonic cycle encapsulates the notions of simultaneity, equivalence, and difference. It is the “period of whole days over which the visible lunar and solar periods almost resynchronize” (Dictionary of Weights and Measures). This re-synchronization suggests a confluence between two different measures of time, which can be identified without subsuming one order of measure into the other. Importantly, there is a remainder when these two cycles nearly meet: “the difference between the 236 synodic months and 19 mean tropical years is barely two hours.” A portion always exceeds.
One of the ways an experience of time is produced in poetic contexts requires engaging our body's memories, such as how we hear a sound. The way sound decays in a space, or how it moves and dimishes across a duration of time, engages our ability to take note of the unfurling present moment. It's a particular attention, fixated on a deeply embodied phenomenon that reinvigorates our ability to locate ourselves in the world. To invoke a sound is to invoke the body in present time.
I find this link between sound, the present, and the body richly explored by Tan Lin's digital poem, “Echo,” archived at UbuWeb. An echo reflects sound waves back to the listener, often in a diminished manner.
When I was thinking about a motif or query that could help focus my Commentaries here at Jacket2, I kept returning to a central question about time. The way that we experience and imagine time is directly shaped by the quality of our attention and the terms of our engagement. There are many areas of interest through which I could engage this experience of time (film, for example), but while commentating here, I shall limit myself to the way that language operates in poetic contexts.