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.

Ned Randolph reviews Cathy Park Hong

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

Cathy Park Hong’s Dance Dance Revolution (W. W. Norton, New York, 2007) imagines a heightened collision between the language of commercialism in a futuristic, globalized world. She read from the work on Thursday at the most recent BathHouse Reading Series event at Eastern Michigan University.

The poem sequence features a fictionalized dissident from South Korea — turned tour guide — who is leading a historian through an imagined futuristic city, called the Desert, which resembles in many ways the surreal commercialism of Las Vegas.

Her tour guide speaks in a pidgin assembled from English, Korean and other dialects that spit out cliches as if they were jingles written for the occasion, such as “unabashed Succotash” and “I get laid in me Escalade, then I drink Crystal before I take out my pistol.”

The sequence of poems, which won the 2006 Barnard Women Poets Prize, bears a loose connection to Dante’s Inferno, where Virgil guides the reader through the nine circles of Hell.  This guide, instead, has on the surface sold her lyrical soul to commercialism as she touts in the language of commodities, musing on “Colgate white teeth” and her caveats for dating “even if them wining and dining me” as she leads her historian through a fictional hotels based on the cities of the world.

“Behold, the toilet!”

Hong reads without lights or special effects. Diminutive with a clear, melodious voice she riffs on commercials through the words of the guide who makes one nostalgic for the actual desert, a natural occurrence, in comparison to the commercial construction of the Desert in city.

The narrative of the historian (gender unspecified) is also interspersed throughout the collection, as he recollects his own experiences, including the Civil War in Sierra Leon, where it was safer to draw the city streets than to walk them. Though, he said, he was a poor illustrator. “Childish draftsmanship forced me to focus on smaller things,” his says in a poetic primer than I put in my own pocket for later.

“les’ toast to bountiful gene pool, to intramarry couple breedim beige population!” a celebrant offers.

Hong also read from her forthcoming book that consists of a trilogy of poems — from three imagined boom towns: an Old Western in the 19thy Century, Chengdu in president day China, and a cyberpunk city of the future.

From the first, she read three short sound poems, including two lipograms that relied on a single recurring vowel.

In the second, the narrator’s boyfriend from Chengdu works in a Rembrandt replication factory, where he paints five fake Rembrandt’s a day that are exported to a far off land called Florida.

The cyberpunk world is inhabited with “smart snow” which is nano-like computer dust that connects people without the need for computers. People can read others’ thoughts and vacation by spelunking in another’s mind.

Hong pulls from her own influences to sculpt her work in prose and verse. A former journalist, she tends to look to the world at large to inform her poetics. She spent a year in Korea interviewing defectors from North Korea in 2005. While there, she was amazed, she said, to find the Korean language so newly laden with English words, which was different from the Korean spoken by her own parents.

Still, in the bilingual household in California, she said, her family always spoke in broken sentences.

Aylen Rounds reviews Cathy Park Hong

Aylen Rounds reviews Cathy Park Hong’s recent BathHouse reading:

Cathy Park Hong, BathHouse Reading, 2/17

Poet Cathy Park Hong was the featured writer for February’s BathHouse Reading Series, held on the 17th. She read from her latest book, Dance Dance Revolution, as well as excerpts from a forthcoming collection (tenatively) titled Engine West.

Hong was personable and warm right from the start, which helped her audience want to engage with her work — even if they didn’t always understand it. This went a long way  in the case of the excerpts of Dance Dance Revolution, a collection of poems about an imaginary desert city with a narrator who speaks in a pidgin comprised of English, Korean, Spanish, and old and new slang, prohibiting the audience from comprehending many individual words. Despite this seemingly large obstacle, at the very least, the excerpts Hong chose to read from Dance Dance Revolution certainly intrigued those in attendance who hadn’t (yet) read the book.

Engine West is another collection of work exploring imaginary cities – three of them – an Old West town, an imaginary city in modern-day China called Sheng-Du, and a futuristic place described by Hong as cyberpunk. Stylistically, it weaves together sound poems and narrative poems.  Hong read excerpts from each of the three sections. The Old West selections were “sound poems,” illustrating Hong’s love of rhythm and the musicality of poetry (one of the things she said in the Q&A section after the reading was “when a poem works, it’s usually the music.”) Following this were narrative poems from the Sheng-Du collection, which featured some incredible imagery (“Bring me my napkin. My thumb is smudged with the horizon.”) She closed with three pieces from the futuristic city, which featured an invention called “smart snow”– snow which would, using Internet technology, allow everyone inside everything —- creating a boundaryless future.

Overall, it was an evening that showcased breaking boundaries beyond just the thematic : crossing the lines of genre, of language, and of time, Cathy Park Hong gave her audience here at EMU a memorable presentation.

BathHouse Reading: Cathy Park Hong – Thurs, Feb 17, 5:30 pm

BathHouse Reading Series 2011

Don’t miss the next BathHouse reading featuring Cathy Park Hong, taking place Thursday, Feb 17, at 5:30 p.m. in the Student Center Audtitorium.

Cathy Park HongCathy Park Hong is the author of Translating Mo’um (Hanging Press, 2002) and Dance Dance Revolution (WW Norton, 2007), which was chosen for the Barnard Women Poets Prize. Hong is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and a Village Voice Fellowship for Minority Reporters. Her poems have been published in A Public Space, Poetry, Paris Review, Conjunctions, McSweeney’s, Harvard Review, Boston Review, The Nation, and American Letters & Commentary, among other journals. She has reported for the Village Voice, The Guardian, The New York Times Magazine, and Salon. She serves as a poetry editor for jubilat magazine and is an Assistant Professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

Winter 2011 BathHouse Readings

BathHouse Reading Series 

Get ready for BathHouse readings this Winter semester!  The Bathhouse Reading Series brings in a number of writers and artists—both innovative established writers and exciting up-and-comers—who perform readings of their work at EMU. See video of past readings and performances here. For more information on these readings, contact the EMU English Department at 734.487.4220.

All events are free and open to the public.

  • January 18, 6:00 p.m., Eric Lorberer and Barrett Watten, Student Center Auditorium
  • February 17, 5:30 p.m., Cathy Park Hong, Student Center Auditorium
  • March 22, 6:30 p.m., Brenda Iijima, Dreamland Theater

Eric LorbererEric Lorberer will give a multimedia presentation on poetry and the public space, specifically John Ashbery’s poem strung across a bridge in Minneapolis. Commissioned by renowned sculptor Siah Armajani, this untitled poem works with an arresting visual design to create a total piece of art that dramatically inserts poetry into the public sphere. Eric holds an MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and has published poems in numerous journals including American Poetry ReviewBloomsbury ReviewColorado Review, ConduitDenver QuarterlyExquisite Corpse, and Volt. He lives in Minneapolis, where he edits the award-winning quarterly Rain Taxi Review of Books and directs the annual Twin Cities Book Festival, which takes place in the shadow of Ashbery Bridge.

Barrett WattenBarrett Watten’s presentation, “The Author as Site,” includes visual and verbal elements that play in the creative and critical spheres. Barrett is a “language-centered” poet and critic of modern cultures. His most recent study, The Constructivist Moment: From Material Text to Cultural Poetics (Wesleyan University Press 2003), received the René Wellek Prize in 2004. His creative work has taken the form of experiments in and between genres. They include the early collected poems, Frame: 1971–1990 (Sun & Moon, 1997), Bad History (Atelos, 1998), and Progress/Under Erasure, (Green Integer, 2004). He has collaborated on two multi-authored experimental works, Leningrad: American Writers in the Soviet Union (Mercury House, 1992) and The Grand Piano: An Experiment in Collective Autobiography, San Francisco, 1975–80, a ten-volume serial published between 2006-2010. With Carrie Noland, he edited Diasporic Avant-Gardes: Experimental Poetics and Cultural Displacement (Palgrave, 2009; paperback, 2011). Plasma/Parallèles/“X” appeared in French translation and Italian translations in 2007. Guide to Poetics Journal and Poetics Journal Digital Archive is forthcoming from Wesleyan Press in 2011. He was a 2005 Fulbright Scholar at Universität Tübingen and is a Professor of English at Wayne State University in Detroit.

Cathy Park HongCathy Park Hong is the author of Translating Mo’um (Hanging Press, 2002) and Dance Dance Revolution (WW Norton, 2007), which was chosen for the Barnard Women Poets Prize. Hong is the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship and a Village Voice Fellowship for Minority Reporters. Her poems have been published in A Public Space, Poetry, Paris Review, Conjunctions, McSweeney’s, Harvard Review, Boston Review, The Nation, and American Letters & Commentary, among other journals. She has reported for the Village Voice, The Guardian, The New York Times Magazine, and Salon. She serves as a poetry editor for jubilat magazine and is an Assistant Professor at Sarah Lawrence College.

Brenda IijimaBrenda Iijima was born in the hardscrabble town of North Adams, Mass. She is the author of Around Sea (O Books, 2004), Animate, Inanimate Aims (Litmus Press, 2007), Subsistence Equipment (Faux Press, 2008), Revv. You’ll-ution (Displaced Press, 2009) and If Not Metamorphic (Ahsahta Press, 2010) as well as numerous chapbooks and artist books. She edited the collection Eco Language Reader (Nightboat Books, 2010). Currently, she is working on a body of work entitled Some Simple Things Said by and About, a chronicle of how humans have used animals as surrogates. She is also doing research on women who were murdered in North Adams during the 1970’s when she was growing up there. She is the editor of Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs (http://yoyolabs.com/).