Commons / Edition 1

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Myung Mi Kim's Commons weighs on the most sensitive of scales the minute grains of daily life in both peace and war, registering as very few works of literature have done our common burden of being subject to history. Abstracting colonization, war, immigration, disease, and first-language loss until only sparse phrases remain, Kim takes on the anguish and displacement of those whose lives are embedded in history.

Kim's blank spaces are loaded silences: openings through which readers enter the text and find their way. These silences reveal gaps in memory and articulate experiences that will not translate into language at all. Her words retrieve the past in much the same way the human mind does: an image sparks another image, a scent, the sound of bombs, or conversation. These silences and pauses give the poems their structure.

Commons's fragmented lyric pushes the reader to question the construction of the poem. Identity surfaces, sinks back, then rises again. On this shifting ground, Kim creates meaning through juxtaposed fragments. Her verse, with its stops and starts, its austere yet rich images, offers splinters of testimony and objection. It negotiates a constantly changing world, scavenging through scraps of experience, spaces around words, and remnants of emotion for a language that enfolds the enormity of what we cannot express.

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Editorial Reviews

Memphis Commercial Appeal
Extracts the sparest of reactions and reflections to global politics, colonization, immigration and other issues in fragmented form that takes the blank page as a kind of force field for splinters of language and images. The result is gnomic, austere and obliquely intense.
Publishers Weekly
While much poetry has been written out of the many diasporas that have U.S. outposts, few collections capture the cultural and linguistic displacement of immigration with as much poise and resonance as Kim's fourth book, her most outstanding. The poems here are attentive to, as she writes in the concluding note, what "the polyglot, porous, transcultural presence alters and what is around it." Composed of a series of aphoristic phrases or individual words scattered across the page, the three longish poems in Commons explore the relations between languages, using Korean and English as paradigms, and finding lyric play between the two. (Kim was born in Korea and immigrated to the U.S. when she was a child; the poems often include Hangul and Romanized Korean.) In the poem "Lamenta," one section juxtaposes testimony about life during military turmoil from Kwangju and Sarajevo, while another section has two people speaking to each other, or not, in two different languages: "Unendurable, said one/ cho-goph-dah, said one." "Works" begins with a child telling a story of a mother's soup then mutates to address the devastating consequences of colonialism: "It burn skin to bone/ Scar tissue on top of nerve ending/ Ugly power of military/ I scream too hot too hot/ Naked where clothes were a second before." Articulating our often hidden and difficult ties to each other without righteous indignation or fanfare, these poems are profoundly important and affecting. (Mar.) Forecast: Kim (Under Flag) has taught for years at San Francisco State University and has been part of the loose-knit Bay Area avant-garde community, which includes Lyn Hejinian, Kevin Killian and Nathaniel Mackey. Kim's books are often assigned on campus, and this, her title first with a larger house, should garner review attention within the academy as well as the poetry community. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780520231443
  • Publisher: University of California Press
  • Publication date: 3/4/2002
  • Series: New California Poetry Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 111
  • Sales rank: 1,290,695
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

Myung Mi Kim is Professor of Creative Writing at San Francisco State University. Her three previous books of poetry are Under Flag, winner of the 1991 Multicultural Publishers Book Award, The Bounty (1996), and Dura (1998).

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Read an Excerpt


By Myung Mi Kim


Copyright © 2002 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-92784-1



In what way names were applied to things. Filtration. Not every word that has been applied, still exists. Through proliferation and differentiation. Airborn. Here, this speck and this speck you missed.

Numbers in cell division. Spheres of debt. The paradigm's stitchery of unrelated points. What escapes like so much cotton batting. The building, rather, in flames. Does flight happen in an order.

Dates to impugn and divulge. The laws were written on twelve tablets of bronze which were fastened to the rostra. Trembling hold. Manner of variation and shift. Vacillation hung by tactile and auditory cues.

Those which are of foreign origin. Those which are of forgotten sources. Place and body. Time and action. The snow falls. A falling snow. A fallen snow. A red balloon and a blackwinged bird at semblance of crossing in a pittance of sky.

Chroniclers enter texts and trade. Was to children dying before their mothers. Accounts and recounting. A nation's defense. Names of things made by human hands. Making famine where abundance lies.

Mapping needles. Minerals and gems. Furs and lumber. Alterations through the loss or transposition of even a single syllable. The next day is astronomical distance and a gnarled hand pulling up wild onion.

Placed on a large flat rock and covered by a series of smaller stones. Edicts of building for private persons. Remaining principalities long ago divided off. Under that place which is called the earth wall. Around which extends a savage, trackless waste, infested with wild beasts.

Near city walls. Shapes of battle helmets. Instruments for giving precision to ideas of size, distance, direction, and location. A projection of the possible state. Lay bare and make appear. The gates are wicked — fresh.

With shields. For war and fields. This hill was previously called — it is recorded that on this hill — When the rickshaw stopped, it was three o'clock. The heavy chains were taken off and they walked to the place of execution. One boy's shoe fell off, and he reached down to put it back on, taking a long time to do it. Fierce dogs have come over the sea.

Cutworms in tomato beds. Roots of a tree close to the property line have gone out under the neighbor's cornfield. Wherever kin of word is. Partnership of words is one of many members.

Glyphs to alphabets. In which words have indications of time. They had to eat as much as they could in a hurry. Baskets woven by bloodlet fingers.

Venom verifies. Minuscule pebbles embedded in domestic crops. With the soot covered rice pot — stood and sat, stood and sat, several times. Meals offered up from yet more pinecones burning.

A second class of words in which comparisons are made. The pond after rain, a lily. Watershed and water level. Coinciding glint of scales and scrapers. Conjectural poles.

Speaking and placing the speaking. To speak from the place of the word is to speak forth. Such noise in the ditches — the mills and farms.

Standing in proximity — think and love. See, meet, face. Incidence of generation. Walls of wattles, straw, and mud. A laundering stone and stones for the floor. Gently, gently level the ground. This is the leveling of the ground.




The transition from the stability and absoluteness of the world's contents to their dissolution into motions and relations.

P: Of what use are the senses to us — tell me that

E: To indicate, to make known, to testify in part

Burning eye seen

Of that

One eye seen

bo-bo-bo k-k-k

Jack-in-the-pulpit petaling

To a body of infinite size there can be ascribed neither center nor boundary

say . siphon

Sign scarcity, the greeting — have you eaten today?

Signal of peonies singing given to bullfrogs

Give ear to the quarrels of the marketplace

When the wheel (A) was turned, the gate (B) was raised, thus allowing water to flow from (C) to (D), giving clearance for the ship to pass beneath

lever . girt

Host and parasite

Implicated armed band

Where would one live

A custom of wrapping the head in willow branches


Hours whose length varied with seasons

Hours held by mechanical clock

An abstract metric to gauge daily time

Compendium to dispersals of currency

Farm and factory, bank and municipality

travel . athwart

What would identify the speakers of the idiom


Woodness and continual waking

Raging stretching and casting

Now chanting now weeping

The medicine is that the head be shaved, washed in lukewarm vinegar

The forehead anointed with the juice of lettuce or of poppy If the woodness lasts three days without sleep, there is no hope of recovery


"turbulent homeland"

All that we see could also be otherwise

All that we can describe could also be otherwise

The thing seen is the thing seen together with the whole space


Wakeful works under weeds (wed)

Tell a poor play

Money and mourning met

Sun and sorrow am sent

For fade and flame

Between March and April when spray begin to spring

As apples two of dread

Ourselves mowen so

Wild drakes make whom them bind

False nerve on hours red

Reeds which lie in fold

So harms hinges bore

To be at this thinking trod

Pray of love, one full keen


Why are many buildings necessary with so small a farm area?

The heat of the midday sun is obvious, but the pressure of populations on the inadequate areas of flat land has to be inferred.

For the flock, a brief flash announces possible food

mite a copper coin of very small value
small weight
a minute particle or portion

detent stop or catch in a machine which prevents motion and the removal of which
brings some motor into immediate action (as in guns, clocks, watches)

deterge to wash off or out, to clear away foul or offensive matter from the body


how to false bottom log whom I saw beautiful as a boy


shun . nestle

ravenous . seal

ash . gust


— to settle refugees — to remove land mines And their task leaked

cho-gah-jiib: a color — straw and wintered grass

The question is labor Skin loosening from bone is age

Ages longer than drought or rain


ee . [??]


Their [brilliance and their dependence]

Flowers [gladiolas, zinnia, delphinium]

Offset the houses

What the bluejay exacts [upside down] [inside] the half-broken sunflower, pecking

Scrip — a small purse carried by a pilgrim, shepherd, or beggar

One among fled many felt

Any different tissue constitutes a heterology

White light after breath (circling the mouth)//

The baby asleep in the house And two figures down by the barn

It burns. Membrane.

Further carbonization of matter

bellrag [??]
bellslip [??]


Terms stringent for lack of food

Root insect berry pass a mud inscription

Place where

Weeks of slaughter and remonstrance

Fed the children and animals first

Without interruption the entry log of days

Snow may be falling


"the woman I had anatomized in the past year, or A.D. 1315, in the month of March had a uterus "twice as large as one whom I anatomized in the month of January in the same year ... And because "the uterus of a pig which I anatomized in AD. 1306 was a hundred times larger than it can ever "be seen in a human being, there may be another cause, i.e., because it was pregnant and had "in the uterus 13 little pigs. In this I showed the anatomy of the fetus or of pregnancy


is that green the willow grove
flowers color river hamlets
call of (the) cuckoo
through brushwood gate
tree-root mushrooms
almost (forget) forgotten fish

narrowness (width) of the angler's boat
the span of the world (earth)
painted screen of mossy rocks
how many crows have just flown over(head)
beat time on the sailmast
what is to be thought of long years spent fishing
stocky purplish stalks, the white flowers they put (out)



Father Mask
Mother Mask
Sister Mask
Marriage is Arranged Mask
Funeral Mask
Wedding Mask
Man Mask
Vagina Mask
Hemorrhage Mask


I stayed alive and listened

Orifices mercury and sulfur

So close ill

sever . thrift

Translucence of cut pears on glass plates

The robin's breast remained inert. Its eyes shone for four hours, but near three o'clock, a fly could be seen rubbing its legs over the now weeping eye.


Alteration in condition or fortune

The armory is approachable from the relative east and southeast

A directory of waste

From the practice of accommodating

Thus rang to the washstand, the birthing chair, and the crematory

To be added to the store of the human

Motion: that which refuses to be annihilated


Lifts up his burning

A stranger now a stranger in my clean head

Strokes of green and purple is crocus

Sepal : gape


Her name and her mother's name Her name and her sister's name

Carcass of coyote and deer separated by a stream linked by bones


Meaning the spectator part of the theatre but also, stall, birdcage, beehive

sahl-rlim-sah-ri house


"On the 23rd of July of that year, I had taken a dog in good condition and well fed, "for a vivisection at the request of some of my friends, who very much wanted to see "the recurrent nerves. When I finished this demonstration of the nerves, it seemed "good to watch the movements of the diaphragm in the same dog, at the same operation. "While I was attempting this, and for that purpose had opened the abdomen and was "pulling down with my hand the intestines and stomach gathered together into a mass, "I suddenly beheld a great number of cords as it were, exceedingly thin and beautifully "white, scattered over the whole of the mesentery and the intestine, and starting from "almost innumerable beginnings. But presently, I saw that I was mistaken in this since "I noticed that the nerves belonging to the intestine were distinct from these cords, "and wholly unlike them, and besides, were distributed quite separately from them. "Wherefore, struck by the novelty of the thing

De Fabrica Humani Corporis, Vesalius, 1543


periplus voyage around a coastline or the narrative of such a voyage

muo the fifty-fifth term in the cycle of sixty used to count years, months, days, and hours

The fundamental tenet of all military geography is that every feature of the visible world possesses actual or potential military significance

Little flower,

What day is it

The light stops at glum

O'clock and f

A rain saturated tree trunk becomes a feeling

The city of one's birth and the people inside it



per dulying hidden, disguised. one who acts as a watcher or scout

perdure to continue, endure, last on

The two are begun
They are shaving ends of sticks
The two are discussing seeds
They are specimens
Glass does not burn but the hillside does
The two are a vine's exhalation


Then follow wood then water, then stones and metals, slow to heat

bbi-du-rrhuh-jut-dah askew leaning twisted

In the bowels and studies of inferiors

Seaweed stench


[when my father died and left me nothing]

[this is how I speak]


"helicopters hover" "embassy compound"

Relative fence, cling fence Someone is hiding an infant

Fish with two tails Fish with two heads

Indigestible over days and days


War is there and travel

The same is my sister, brothers, and mother

The father is thrush, white at birth and at dusk

Father is burying ground cool to the touch

This is some color but what color is it

"left their homes after two solid days of attacks"

"they had stayed to take care of their cow"

"the extreme cold froze medicine"

"religion and capitalism intersect in the muddy village twenty miles north of"


What started then and ate through most of a decade

The affliction is very near — and there is no one to help

The dead dog placed around my shoulders — weeds higher than my head

Standing as standing might


"I have dissected more than ten human bodies, destroying all the various members "and removing the minutest particles of flesh which surrounded these veins, without causing "any effusion of blood ... and as one single body did not suffice for so long a time, "it was necessary to proceed by stages with so many bodies as would render my "knowledge complete

The Notebooks, da Vinci


At least 250,000 acres of cotton and fruit crops are under immediate threat from the huge swarm of locusts which have invaded the southern plain from the Pamir Mountains

Roving simians have ripped the curtains off polling booths and pushed some officials preparing for parliamentary elections

In southwest and south-central Kansas the worst condition is plants stunted or killed off by extremely dry soil. Adding to farmers' woes are infestations of green bugs and brown wheat mites

Three villages were overrun by thousands of toads, and farmers in the area reportedly feel that the onslaught is a sign of impending tragedy. Children are said to be terrified by the toads and unable to sleep. The main road connecting the region with La Paz is coated with a thick layer of dead toads and the stench is said to be unbearable.


"peacekeeping troops" "tanks beneath the windows"

The inside of someone else's dwelling visible — a table and some chairs.

You start to count one, two, three, four ... until the explosion is near your neighborhood.

You can guess the position of mortar by this counting and try to find a safe place.

If the windows are gone, weak plastic is taped up but the strong wind comes and we stay awake.

In this South Cholla Province where all vehicles had been confiscated, we resorted to walking, the method of travel of the Yi Dynasty. We reverted back 300 years.

Kwangju, 1980

It's the same to be in the house, at the shelter or anywhere. There is no safe place. When we have no electricity, we are sitting in the dark and we know what life looked like before Christ.

Sarajevo, 1992


The central organizing myth of comprehensive knowledge

Bent as light might bend

The openings in the human body

The age that one is

I will be my mother's age also

Color of robin's egg against spring grass


Any killing
Future passive

Compound of, here
Take away
Think proper
After siege, used to dwell
Account of hard
Work, house with child, fear
Of marketplace, struck
Being made


jiph-jiph-jiph Swallow Swallow Bird

This is the gullet

Helmets make cooking pots

Tin cans make roofs

[sparrow, crow]

Not much left Not much left


To bring to a close

What is to do What is to happen


"We found one girl about 12 or 13 years old standing in front of the hospital. Without "any burns or apparent injury, she only complained of being thirsty. We didn't have any "drinking water, so I gave her some gargle. The next day, I found her dead in the same "spot. I didn't understand why she died. I can only surmise that her insides had imploded. "Acute internal injuries and not one mark on her body. No one ever knew who she was

August 6, 1945


Salt rot
Bramble flesh
Litter husk
Blink ditch
Hunt stick
Hunger welt

Trow Song


ap/ ac


ji-wuat-dah erased

jil-eu-dah shouted

Regarded among penury

Numb pie mum pie

jip-sae-gi ji-pah-raeng-e : show here

Look at that noise!

Numb pie mum pie


Abnormalities included growth retardation, fasciation, malformation, and variegation, with the latter being most prominent. As to variegation of leaves, the white portion took a linear, spotty, and cloudy form and turned completely white in extreme cases. The shade of white varied.

Unendurable, said one

cha-goph-dah, said one

flail : sounding

New buds did not sprout from the damaged side of trees within 700 meters of the hypocenter. Among the herbs that regenerated rapidly, there were sweet potato, taro, dwarf lily turf and big blue lily turf.

Sitting on haunches to perform everyday tasks on the order of trimming greens or rinsing clothes.


staunch . severance

s h

How (would) the hills figure in


As to water


Old woman:
Hand, thigh:
Strength, particle:

Strife and violence are harmful to a city. Each is responsible for deaths. The old men said the women must obey the laws, while the old women said that the men had proven responsible for evils to the city. Birds born tail first. Weak cattle. In accordance with misfortune. River full of sweet water. Fouled. Our life is. Half died. Meteorite is a pebble wedged in a dog's paw.


Excerpted from Commons by Myung Mi Kim. Copyright © 2002 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
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.

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