Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Cathy Park Hong

Creative Writing grad student Gerard Breitenbeck reviews Cathy Park Hong’s BathHouse reading from earlier this semester:

In Sean Kilpatrick’s introduction of Cathy Park Hong,  he notes that “Each line performs like a thousand tongues dueling,” and that we will be privy to “See cultures splayed and reviled by a renegade architect.” Indeed, reading from the collection, Dance Dance Revolution, Hong delivers her work with a keen attention to the way language spars culturally and colloquially, jumping from English to Korean to corporate lingo to slang.

For Hong, language as a living organism of revolt and assimilation. Dance Dance Revolution, centered in a Las Vegas-esque Desert city, is peppered with phrases like  “Bling-bladda-bling,” alongside “Blood rust has been windexed to amber shine.”

Hong embodies the performative aspect of poetry reading, all the while remaining physically reserved behind the podium on the Student Center Auditorium stage. Nevertheless, she reads actively and emphatically, with careful inflection and dynamic speed and accents.

Hong’s work appears concerned with authenticity and artifice. “Once the desert was actually a desert,” she writes. What can be discerned as genuine, and if anything, or anyone can be so called, what is the nature of that determination? It would seem that if anything could be called genuine, it would be paradoxically something that crosses boundaries, blurs distinctions and therefore our means of measuring it against expectations of other genuine things. “Let’s toast to bountiful gene pool, to intermarried couples breeding beige population.”

Hong’s work is future-minded, troubled, but  brazen and strangely optimistic. Lines like “Bring me my napkin. My thumb is smudged with the horizon” suggest that living is an active, continuing encounter with the world around us, and we can’t help but change with what it means to be alive, and change the world with us.