Suji Kwock Kim reads well. She mentioned at her reading at the Berkeley Lunch Poems series in her reading April 7th, 2005 that she started in theater before she became a poet. Her presence and her speaking voice resonate with confidence. Also, unfortunately, she is heartbreakingly beautiful. An unfortunate distraction from the poems but an added benefit to the reading. My poor wife, she suffers the dog that I am. And now the world knows too. More details on the Berkeley Lunch Poem series can be found here: Berkeley Lunch Poems
In her reading she selected poems that illustrated tropes and themes off of type. What I mean by that is that Kim seemed amused and concerned that her friends think of her as writing two kinds of poems. Love poems and war poems. In her reading she hand picked pieces that were not so easily lumped into those categories.
Some of the poems from the reading that held my attention or that I felt affection for as she read them include the following poems: "Montage With Neon, Bok Choi, Gasoline, Lovers & Strangers", "Nocturne", "Drunk Metaphysics" and "Monologue For An Onion".
Upon reading her book Notes From The Divided Country I found flaws, flaws visible but not apparent during the reading.
The first flaw for me as a reader was the over-indulgence in historical tragedy, taking advantage of images of boys with faces blown off, corpses eaten by dogs and vultures and so forth.
I see this over-indulgence in many young poets who feel that the responsibility of their historical, social, and cultural context must influence their poems. They tend to overstate and make melodramatic their politics in their poems.
Even friends I admire like the Persian-American poet Sholeh Wolpe and the American Indian poet Sherman Alexie fall prey to this over-indulgence. The pressures on them to do so must be tremendous.
Fortunately Kim, Wolpe and Alexie are fantastically talented and their better poems outpace this temporal and political agenda leaving them to create poems of enduring value and worth.
As an example from Kim, in "Montage With Neon, Bok Choi, Gasoline, Lovers & Strangers" the poem survives the throttling of the poem by politics with its Hongo-esque litanies of elegant imagery. In fact, the handling of the imagery is in many ways superior to Hongo’s prosy incantations. The poem gets bogged down in prose lines like "the War Memorial in Itaewon counting / MORE THAN 3 MILLION DEAD, OR MISSING-- / still missed by the living, still loved beyond reason."
After the reader suffers through the polemic the poem is rescued by a romantic, illuminating list of bright objects: