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"What Story What Story What Sound": The Nomadic Poetics of Myung Mi Kim's Dura

From: College Literature
34.4, Fall 2007
pp. 63-91 | 10.1353/lit.2007.0052

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

In "Pollen Fossil Record," the last section of her fourth volume, Commons (2002), Myung Mi Kim raises a number of questions which underlie a language-centered nomadic poetics she has developed since her first book, Under Flag (1991).

What is English now, in the face of mass global migration, ecological degradation, shifts and upheavals in identifications of gender and labor? How can the diction(s), register(s), inflection(s) as well as varying affective stances that have and will continue to filter into "English" be taken into account? What are the implications of writing at this moment, in precisely this "America"? How to practice and make plural the written and spoken—grammar, syntaxes, textures, intonations . . . .

(Myung Mi Kim 2002, 110)

By exploring how the English language and poetic form can be deployed in such a way as to engage with historical and social changes, and to enact the experience of migration and displacement, Kim departs from writing diasporas as a theme to writing the impact of diasporas in terms of "contaminated" English, fragmented narratives, and dislocated, mobile words, images, and utterances.

Her third book, Dura (1998) provides a salient example of how Kim responds to the questions and challenges she has posed, through an innovative nomadic poetics which sets Dura apart from her other volumes. Unlike Under Flag (1991), The Bounty (1996), or Commons (2002), Dura is "one long poem," "a kind of strange autobiography," and an interrogation of the "materiality" and "apparatuses around words, word-making," which are related to questions about "what gets written and by who," as Kim indicated at a reading of Dura at SUNY Buffalo on November 14, 1998. I would argue that the "strangeness" of Dura can be better understood not only in terms of Kim's theory about poetic form as "interplay of mobile elements" (2002, 108), but also by using Gilles Deleuze's and Félix Guattari's notions of rhizomatics to open up new possibilities for reading Dura as "a kind of strange autobiography" that has moved beyond subjectivity, and as a book that finds adequate an "outside with which to assemble in heterogeneity, rather than a world to reproduce," to borrow Deleuze's and Guattari's words (2003, 24).

So far no extensive reading has been devoted to Dura, though critics have explored certain aspects of the themes and poetics of this challenging book. In her essay, "'Composed of Many Lengths of Bone': Myung Mi Kim's Reimagination of Image and Epic," Josephine Nock-Hee Park reads "Kim against Ezra Pound's high modernist legacy, and Kim's redeployment of these aesthetic tools," which "shows us new, strategic uses of this literary past" (2006, 235). Park examines possible traces of Pound's Imagism in Kim's deployment of images, particularly the ways in which Kim's images of war and its aftermaths contrast with Pound's modernist appropriation of ideogrammatic imagery (239–40). Moreover, Park reads Dura along and against the American tradition of the epic. Drawing on James E. Miller's study of the American epic, Park traces Dura's immediate "influence" to Pound's The Cantos and to Theresa Hak Kyung Cha's Dictée, asserting that Dura is "a refashioning of the American long poem as initiated by Walt Whitman" (241, 242). Park contends that while his "fantasy of the world providing models for a coherent state that drives The Cantos does not fall apart," Pound "laments that the poem does; in contrast, the world Kim witnesses remains arbitrarily divided and she implicates attempts at spinning this fact into coherence" (2006, 242). In addition, Park claims that Kim "follows" the "lineage" of Cha's Dictée which "reformulated" the American long poem (242–43).

By identifying Pound's The Cantos as the point of departure for Kim's Dura, Park confines the latter's innovation to a binarized relationship with the former's ideological and poetic concerns, thus overlooking the latter's distinctive challenges and innovations which are irreducible to those attributes as measured against Pound's Imagism and the cantos. A similar oversight and blind spot underlie Park's linking of Dura to Dictée as part of a "lineage," the concept of which is called...