Wednesday, April 15, 2020
I've always admired the way, especially in her book Toxic Flora, Kimiko Hahn is able to respond to science with poetry. Her newest book, Foreign Bodies, is a precise, intimate study of objects and wordplay. In the poem "Foreign Body," she expresses, "Now I'm sixty. Sweet as dried papaya. / My hair, a bit tarnished, / my inmost, null. / Memory is falling away / as if an image shattered to shards then / re-collected for a kaleidoscope: / I click the pieces into sharp arrangement--" This "sharp arrangement" is how I view this book, and I found myself enjoying all of the echoes and elegance. The images of ash and dust ("Before I swept every speck of you...") are motifs throughout and are given all sorts of associations--from cigarette ashes to the ashes of the departed. In "The Ashes," witness the vividness and syntax: "After the war, after she met Father, / she smoked menthols but didn't cha-cha anymore. / She'd light up and blow smoke / out the apoplectic window. / He found the ashes on the sill." I admire Hahn's work so much that I wasn't sure at first about the inclusion of her essay "Nitro: More on Japanese Poetics"--I wanted the poems to be able to breathe on their own on their pages--but ultimately I thought there were many interesting ideas within. "After all, aren't word associations the raw material of the psyche, where one rubs against one's dreams?" And later, "Perhaps I shouldn't feel the need to essay my mixed sensibility. Please dear reader, please count this not as a lecture, but as an abiding homage to a culture that is both foreign and embodied." I appreciated this final note--and the restless yearning of a powerful mind that created this book.