Notes from the Divided Country

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Overview

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LSU Press

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Editorial Reviews

Ray Olson
The four parts of Ms. Kim's impressive first collection contain poems of family, history, love, and vision, respectively. The first part is punch-in-the-guts powerful. After opening with the virtuosic "Generation," tracing the poet's journey from before conception to implantation in the womb, the poems lay out a painful familial scenario, the soul-searing climax of which comes in "ST RAGE," in which sadistic boys torment the poet's handicapped brother. Anguish also pervades the second section's preoccupation with the half-century of horror Ms. Kim's ancestral homeland, Korea, endured, first under Japanese occupation, then in the Korean War; members of Ms. Kim's family played historic roles then, and they figure as actors and dedicatees here. The third section's poems on love are analytic, personal, and sensual, though seldom all at once; whereas pain predominated in the first two sections, emotional intensity preoccupies these poems. In the last section, Ms. Kim applies that intensity to observation of art and nature, so strikingly that, for instance, having read "On Sparrows," you may never regard those common birds as commonplace again.
Booklist
The Los Angeles Times
Suji Kwock Kim has written a book of unforgettable poems
Los Angeles Times Book Review
I wish I had space in which to consider at length the important debut of Notes From the Divided Country by Suji Kwock Kim. It seems to me that this first book (already acknowledged by the 2002 Walt Whitman Award) deserves close and celebratory attention.

Suji Kwock Kim has written a book of unforgettable poems; she has found a way, through the medium of language, to allow readers into a double consciousness that is, finally, the poet's undivided mind. She writes of the "old country" reborn in the New World, of her ancestors in Korea during the Japanese occupation and her immediate family in America: the Trees of Unknowing and Knowledge.

In one of the most inspired and brilliant poems, she considers sparrows and their symbology: "How to stay faithful / to earth, how to keep from betraying / its music " she wonders - as she writes of the Earth that both divides us and brings us together. — Carol Muske-Dukes

Washington Post Book World
I've been struck by the rich and complicated way that many young Asian-American poets, [such as Suji Kwock Kim], have been dealing with their ancestry and engaging the past. These poets are creating an art that looks forward by turning back. Their work confronts history and comes to terms with a wide range of cultural influences, a complex and divided inheritance.

Suji Kwock Kim's first book, Notes From the Divided Country, moves fluently between the living and the dead, the Korean past and the Asmerasian present. Her heartfelt work is shadowed by the question of what is passed on through a long, blood-soaked history. She tracks the generations through strong poems for her great-grandparents, her grandmother, her father and, especially, her mother. She also traces the tormented, catastrophic history of countless others, many of them nameless, who figured in the making of more than half-a-million new Americans. — Edward Hirsch

From The Critics
Suji Kwock Kim’s title NOTES FROM THE DIVIDED COUNTRY refers not only to the Koreas North and South and to all the Americas, but also to the countries of the mind. Travelling between past and present, Kim’s powerful fictive imagination creates almost unbearably realistic enactments of war-zones once inhabited by her parents, grandparents, and even her great-grandparents. If “death is no remedy for having been born”, as she says in “The Tree of Knowledge”, then perhaps poetry is: poetry as expiation, history, memory treasure trove. In highly sophisticated verse, with lines long and lean or short and subtle, an exorcism seems to take place through the precision and music of her language. In poems about the couple next door in San Francisco, or the poet on the road to Skye in Scotland, or in the streets of Seoul on the Buddha’s birthday, Suji Kwock Kim celebrates being alive and well in the complexities of the present moment.
Griffin International Poetry Prize, Judges’ Citation (Billy Collins, Bill Manhire, Phyllis Webb)
The Villiage Voice
Suji Kwock Kim's Whitman Award-winning collection arrives at a moment when many Asian American poets bristle at the . . . "ghettoization" of ethnic poetries in American letters. Kim's NOTES FROM THE DIVIDED COUNTRY opens with an almost . . . mythic retelling of the poet's conception in the "labyrinth of mother's body." After this surreal, prenatal fugue, the book abruptly shifts gears and launches into a series of first-person accounts of political atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese during the forced colonial assimilation of Korea and later by the Americans during the Korean War. An epigraph by Brecht alerts us to the fact that these imaginary perspectives are a deliberate attempt to flunk the ethnic litmus test of "authenticity." Citizens from Kim's home village are "blown to hieroglyphs of viscera" --- a piercing, uncanny image that doubles as a critique of the aestheticization of historical trauma.
Publishers Weekly
Winner of the Academy of American Poets' Walt Whitman Award, Kim's debut documents "Generation," "Occupation," "Hwajon" ("Fire-field"), "Resistance," "Drunk Metaphysics," the "Korean Community Garden in Queens" and 30 other hotly contested, deeply resonant sites, "A surf of objects that beat against the doors of the skull/ and are never abandoned." Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
These reflective discourses on the Korean American experience show why Kim has received numerous fellowships, as well as a The Nation/Discovery Award. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807128732
  • Publisher: Louisiana State University Press
  • Publication date: 4/28/2003
  • Pages: 88
  • Sales rank: 351,329
  • Product dimensions: 6.42 (w) x 8.92 (h) x 0.28 (d)

Meet the Author

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LSU Press

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LSU Press

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Read an Excerpt

Whatever you meant to love, in meaning to You changed yourself: you are not who you are,

Your soul cut moment to moment by a blade Of fresh desire, the ground sown with abandoned skins.
And at your inmost circle, what? A core that is Not one. Poor fool, you are divided at the heart, Lost in its maze of chambers, blood, and love, A heart that will one day beat you to death.
—--- from Monologue for an Onion
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments
Generation 3
The Tree of Unknowing 6
The Tree of Knowledge 7
Middle Kingdom 13
Translations from the Mother Tongue 15
Occupation 19
Borderlands 20
Hwajon 21
Resistance 22
Animal Farm 25
The Chasm 26
Song of Ch'u: To the Sea-Wind 28
Fragments of the Forgotten War 30
Flight 33
Looking at a Yi Dynasty Rice Bowl 34
Montage with Neon, Bok Choi, Gasoline, Lovers & Strangers 35
Hanji: Notes for a Papermaker 41
Leaving Chinatown 43
Aubade Ending with Lines from the Japanese 44
Nocturne 45
Drunk Metaphysics 47
The Road to Skye 48
The Couple Next Door 49
Monologue for an Onion 51
Prelude for Grains of Sand 55
On Sparrows 56
Fugue for Eye and Vanishing Point 61
Skins 62
Transit Car 63
Levitations 65
RICE 66
Between the Wars 68
The Robemaker 70
The Korean Community Garden in Queens 71
Notes 73
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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 5, 2003

    RAVE, RAVE, RAVE

    I read a review of NOTES FROM THE DIVIDED COUNTRY in the Sunday L. A. Times a week ago, & bought it at the L. A. Festival of Books. I loved it! I bought another 2 copies as gifts for Mother's Day. I don't normally read poetry, so I'm not very articulate when it comes to technical terms, etc. But let me just say that this book is wonderful. I'm going to borrow the reviewer's words to rave a little more: 'I wish I had space in which to consider at length the important debut of NOTES FROM THE DIVIDED COUNTRY by Suji Kwock Kim. It seems to me that this first book (already acknowledged by the 2002 Walt Whitman Award) deserves close and celebratory attention. Suji Kwock Kim has written a book of unforgettable poems; she has found a way, through the medium of language, to allow readers into a double consciousness that is, finally, the poet's undivided mind. She writes of the 'old country' reborn in the New World, of her ancestors in Korea during the Japanese occupation and her immediate family in America: the Trees of Unknowing and Knowledge. In one of the most inspired and brilliant poems, she considers sparrows and their symbology: 'How to stay faithful / to earth, how to keep from betraying / its music ' she wonders ¿ and brings us full circle here ¿ as she, too writes of the Earth that both divides us and brings us together.' (LOS ANGELES TIMES BOOK REVIEW, April 27, 2003)

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