by Monica Youn

"Barter exchanges history for myth, direct speech for epistles, activity for observation . . . breathtaking." —Claudia Rankine

Felix the Rat's hind feet
could be Barbie hands—
same pink, same
injection-molded seaming.—from "Electronica"

The poems in Barter, Monica Youn's exciting first


"Barter exchanges history for myth, direct speech for epistles, activity for observation . . . breathtaking." —Claudia Rankine

Felix the Rat's hind feet
could be Barbie hands—
same pink, same
injection-molded seaming.—from "Electronica"

The poems in Barter, Monica Youn's exciting first collection, negotiate transactions between scarcity and excess, pornography and abstraction, the thing and the thing seen. Rendered with a dazzling array of structures and allusions, these poems describe—and become—a strange gallery of paintings and portraits. She offers a Polaroid left on a windshield, step-by-step instructions for "Drawing for Absolute Beginners," a stereoscope with a box of slides. Both an homage to and a warning against nonexistent things, Barter introduces a vibrant new voice and a new way of seeing.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“[These poems] are disturbing because of the insidious links they find between seemingly disparate things. Youn's gaze plays stereoscopically over the field of such cultural artifacts (often lifted from the horror-show of feminine conditioning). The result is sly, deft, spooky, intriguing.” —Rae Armantrout
Publishers Weekly
"Technically edible/ like the nasturtiums," Youn's poems are a decadent decade's blowback, "[s]omething authoritative,/ asymmetrical, perhaps/ a bit outre." A Houston-raised former Stegner fellow, Youn is a lawyer in New York, and delivers these 42 poems "ex machina in silver lame." Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Youn's first collection is frustratingly obscure in places, but her description dazzles. "Drawing for Absolute Beginners," a difficult piece, surveys eight sections of the "ideal male body" as outlined by an old-fashioned drawing text: "Eyes glass boxes/ filling up with light. Later, drained to a blue-gray, the color of/ good government." A metaphor about Venice is as intriguing but less puzzling: "I walk/ through the alien city-a beekeeper's habit-/ with fierce light/ clinging to my head and hands." Youn generates a sexual charge as she moves through alternate worlds of pornography and art, annotating her references with author's notes, two indispensable pages that explain, among other things, that the book's epitaph comes "from the Norse myth of the ribbon Glepnir, which is made of nonexistent things." Youn's subjects also include Korea, the subjugation of women, and the torture of children, but she writes most convincingly about the middle regions of the United States, including her native Texas: "We know no other shapes/ than those that contain us:/ we have built our zoneless city,/ a hub of freeways, a dark toile." A sophisticated debut; recommended for academic collections.-Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

Product Details

Graywolf Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.06(w) x 9.08(h) x 0.25(d)

Read an Excerpt


By Monica Youn

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2003 Monica Youn
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1-55597-381-7

Chapter One


remorse: to be bitten again. remonstrance:

to be displayed again; shown again; arms

pulled back, head following, how you

gloat, my reflection smeared in the midnight

window: why won't you look at yourself?

DÉCOR My covetous eye casts over you, taking you apart. I'd like a trophy of you for every room of the house. The bend of your cocked wrist in the join of a rafter to the wall; an eyebrow floated in a cut-glass bowl;

and instead of an antimacassar draping my overstuffed chair, a crochet netting of your veins. Something authoritative, asymmetrical, perhaps a bit outré. Featuring that spiral-

shaped mystery of gravitation, making the room attend it, composed, aware of distances. What better in my front hall with its fan light, its tall mirrors, than the immaculate

roundness of your plump heel and toes-substantial, rococo, a handle for my front door:

warm to the touch, it turns easily, opens.... You can go now.

STEALING THE SCREAM It was hardly a high-tech operation, stealing The Scream. That we know for certain, and what was left behind- a store-bought ladder, a broken window, and fifty-one seconds of videotape, abstract as an overture. And the rest? We don't know. But we can envision moonlight coming in through the broken window, casting a bright shape over everything-the paintings, the floor tiles, the velvet ropes: a single, sharp-edged pattern;

the figure's fixed hysteria rendered suddenly ironic by the fact of something happening; houses clapping a thousand shingle hands to shocked cheeks along the road from Oslo to Asgardstrand;

the guards rushing in-too late!-greeted only by the gap-toothed smirk of the museum walls; and dangling from the picture wire like a baited hook, a postcard: "Thanks for the poor security." The policemen, lost as tourists, stand whispering in the galleries: "... but what does it all mean?" Someone has the answers, someone who, grasping the frame, saw his sun-red face reflected in that familiar boiling sky.


Where was it that we went that night? That long, low building: floodlights rimmed in lavender, the moon ringed in rose. I would rather, then, have stayed

outside, where spiderwebs glowed like jellyfish in the damp yew hedges, where the paths were chalky pebbles set with giant stepping stones. But the film was starting. In the air-conditioned dark, a crowd of strangers, strange families (not from our church) in rows of metal folding chairs to see

a man quartered by horses: strain stitched across his shining back then, all over at once, an unraveling and then the spill of meat;

a girl pushed through a doorway, naked among the soldiers: she grew a dress to cover herself, a blue dress with a blinding sash.


Excerpted from Barter by Monica Youn Copyright © 2003 by Monica Youn. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Monica Youn was raised in Houston, Texas. A former Stegner Fellow, she has published poems in numerous anthologies and journals, including Agni, Fence, and Poetry. She currently lives in Manhattan, where she is an intellectual property lawyer.

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