- Throwing Your Voice:An Interview with Cathy Park Hong
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Poetry is thought. More than offering an object for aesthetic contemplation, poetry speaks; poetry thinks. It does so, as cathy park hong once put it, in more than one tongue, operating in the spaces between "mangled languages."1 As she writes in "Zoo," a poem from her 2002 collection Translating Mo'um,
La the wordMa speaksBa without you2
cathy park hong is a poet dedicated to expanding and experimenting with the capacities of a living art. Her writing, editing, and performances across media seek to open up the "interactive possibilities" of poetry for the sake of providing "alternative ways of living within the existing real," as she puts it. "What are ways in which the poetic praxis can be a ritual for social experimentation? The poem as a [End Page 1] public encounter is entrenched in habit. How many ways can we change this encounter?"3
Hong's work as a poet is thus deeply immersed in questions of method—attending not only to how poetry looks, sounds, and creates meanings, but also to how encounters with poetry are themselves necessarily sites of experimentation and challenge. As she writes in a 2014 essay, "The encounter with poetry needs to change constantly via the internet, via activism and performance, so that poetry can continue to be a site of agitation, where the audience is not a receptacle of conditioned responses but is unsettled and provoked into participatory response."4 Such constant change is at once an activist demand with political significance, as well as an open invitation for the participatory imagination. "A honeycomb of lights. / The world pours in," to cite a couplet from a poem in Hong's second volume of poetry, Dance Dance Revolution (2007).5 Cathy Hong's poetry is dedicated to multiplying such sites of openness and agitation. This includes undertaking creolized experiments in translation and language-creation that explore "what language can endure while still producing meaning" as well as creating dystopian storyworlds of imperial expansion and corporate global fantasy. Such a project extends, significantly, to Hong's investment in forging new channels of aesthetic engagement and political solidarity.6
A professor of creative writing at Rutgers University and Poetry Editor at the New Republic, Hong is the author of three volumes of experimental poetry as well as numerous essays and collaborations that meditate on the soundscapes, and also the politics, of experimentalism. Throughout her poetry sequences, she develops an ever-changing technopoetics of contraction and expansion that functions—that agitates—in and between languages, in and between poetic forms, and in and between landscapes and cityscapes of power. Her debut volume, Translating Mo'um (Hanging Loose Press, 2002), received a Pushcart Prize; her second collection, Dance Dance Revolution (W. W. Norton, 2007), was selected by Adrienne Rich for the Barnard Women Poets Prize. A serial poem in alternating hybrid languages, Dance Dance Revolution is also a work of speculative fiction, which invents an all-too-recognizable future dystopia of planned cities and global tourism, along with a pair of character witnesses who chronicle these worlds in their distinctive poetic voices. Hong literally invents a new language for one speaker, the Desert Guide, whose "sizable Mouthpiece role" at once bears the linguistic residue of global migration and testifies to the [End Page 2] art of survival in the volume's storyworld. In her most recent volume of poetry, Engine Empire (2012), Hong presents a triptych of dystopian "boomtowns," the murderous Wild West of the American 1860s, the accelerated urban-industrial growth of contemporary China, and the sad and quietly terrifying cognitive saturation of our experience by "smart" technology in the imminent Silicon Valley future.
At once conceptual and analytical, at once narratively, formally, and semiotically experimental, Hong's poetry explores what it means to become an instrument, whether an instrument of music and art or an instrument of violence and empire. For all their linguistic experimentalism, her books are also dramas of artistic consequence and political consciousness alike.
In addition to...