Sunday Oct 25

Kim-Poetry Annie Kim is a graduate of Warren Wilson College’s MFA Program for Writers and a Virginia Center for the Creative Arts fellow. Her poems appear, or are forthcoming, in Mudlark, Ninth Letter, Asian American Literary Review, DMQ Review and elsewhere. She works as an assistant dean for public service at the University of Virginia School of Law.

Annie Kim Interview, with Julie Brooks Barbour

I notice that these poems draw from cultural as well as family history. Could you talk about the significance of bringing the two together in your work?

History—both collective and personal—plays a big role in the manuscript from which these poems come.  Imagine a wide, fraying square of silk, the traces of a figure or a landscape stitched across it.  Only the stitches don't always meet and the pictures they suggest remain, in a way, always incomplete.  Fabric and thread work together.  In a poem like "Historia" I am conscious of these materials and invested in creating as complete a picture as possible.  Sometimes we can grasp a truth only by struggling to recreate and re-imagine it, albeit in a flawed and miniature way.

I like your discussion of weaving together images to create a narrative. Your poem “A Rag for My Father” echoes this method, and I wonder if you could talk about how the poem was crafted in relation to creating that complete picture, or as close as writers can get to doing so.

Completion, for this poem, isn't so much about clear imagery as collage. I'm often drawn to juxtaposition as a method of composition, particularly for difficult subjects. Creating new textures, angles and collisions through collage feels very satisfying to me because I'm not closing anything off.  In "A Rag for My Father" I borrow loosely from the structure of classic American rag—its syncopations, multiple melodies and repetitions—to create a sonic collage of a father/daughter relationship.

I find this very interesting, the collage that borrows from musical structure, and would love to hear more about the development of this poem.

Rags—like waltzes, rock, or other forms of music—have certain typical patterns.  I tried to make the first section syncopated like a rag, for instance, and then juxtaposed different, though related, "melodies" in the following sections.  Like any poem taking its cues from music, though, the imitation is really rough.

Could you talk about the ways in which you construct narrative in your manuscript, whether through collage, woven images, or other methods of organization?

I'm kind of obsessed with finding new ways to work narrative into my poems, so my collection, Cyclorama, reflects various approaches. In the title poem, for instance, I slowly braid together two narratives or meditations, working on both the left and right sides of the page. Both strands are about how we respond to violence, both emotionally and in art.  In another poem, about childhood memories of living in Korea, I use more of a collage method, placing short lyrics styled in the old Korean "sijo" form alongside longer sections that are more overtly narrative.

             —Korea, 1950                               

And the bliss and the shame.
That day he stood watching the Americans,
they had been following the trains for weeks.
Small at six, muddy to the knees (it was
the rainy season), looking up through two,
perfectly tender, rumball eyes.
Trace the swing of their arms—young corporals
fresh from St. Louis, Sioux City, Detroit—
how the light in this curious country
flames the hair along them into honey-wheat.
Up and down: fifty-pound metallic drums
of milk, finely evaporated, tinned beef—
all twentieth-century forms of necessity.
And the boy—he will repeat this later
to his daughters in their kitchen—
asks for nothing, though he stares.
Yes you, come here!
The soldier points at him. Reaches in his pocket.
The boy approaches. 
And like a dove from heaven it descends:
a bar of chocolate, bigger than his hand. Complete.
Peeling back the crisp tinfoil, black squares
that will melt into a river of forgetting, the boy
who is my father smiles.
The war has just begun.

A Rag for My Father
—leisurely, not too fast

I say a man must see his
father’s face at least
one time before he

learns to be the kind of man
who doesn’t know what
man he wants to be.

. . .

A father is a kind of trap
you could easily fall for.
A father is a type of map
you stupidly search for.

A man sets out to walk the barren desert of his father.
Finding nothing but the sand he says, This land is cursed, my
father never lived here.

A girl sets out to clear away the clutter of her father.
On everything I own, she wails, but if I pitch his things my
attic would be bare.

A father is a kind of trap
you could easily fall for.

. . .

What should we say? What can we write about
the men who are our fathers?

After the dinner plate that barely missed
my head,
after the epithets, the sketch he ripped (pastels
of the moonlit ocean)—

he would offer me a can of Coke,
pour it black and sizzling over ice cubes.
He would drink –
  I would drink –

and so we downed our Lethe.

What does it mean to be the daughter of
a man who doesn’t know his father?

He could tell
she hadn’t thought like this before, the way
her face drooped a little and she crossed her legs.
The sun sets so late this time of year. As if it still
hasn’t figured out how to walk away.

. . .

Forgive me Father   for I have sinned I  wished for
a different father

Forgive me Father   for I have failed to  wash away
my father's sins

Of Memory

You are a swinging door, the Zen master says.

Though some doors don’t swing, some doors
stay bolted, dissolving in the lake
of memory into mist, into the rusty pile
of locks and hinges at your feet.

Then and now. I would watch
the door in the center of our house like
the big black hands of a school clock,

a painting of fruit not even ants
could crawl through.

When you are a child every door
is terrifying. You are a ball wildly
rolling down the floor—
four hard walls to stop you.

You haven’t mastered yet the art
of how to turn the knob.