- Personal and Generational
BOA Editions, LTD
104 Pages; Print, $16.00
Christine Kitano's Sky Country braids family lore and cultural history to illuminate themes of displacement in the lives of Asian immigrants in America. Focusing on Japanese and Korean Americans, Kitano's poems give voices to women often silenced by history in the mid-twentieth century and reveal the reality of life in the United States is much different from the sky country of immigrants' dreams. The book's title is taken from a translation of the Korean world for heaven, ha-neul nara, which translates to "sky country." Potential immigrants often used this word to describe the United States. Kitano's poems reveal the reality of the United States, a place of hunger, loneliness, and the struggle for acceptance, in stark contrast to the sky country of the immigrant lore. Displaced by racism, poverty, and misunderstanding, immigrants learn "how much fear will conspire to keep us silent. / And how our children will read this silence / as shame."
Weaving real and imagined immigration experiences of her own family, Kitano's poetry reveals the stories of her grandmothers, who fled Korea and Japan, and her father, a Japanese American who was incarcerated during WWII. The collection travels through time, getting closer to the present day by allowing the reader to encounter the voice of a speaker who claims to be the poet. Coming face to face with herself at different ages, the poet speaker brings the collection full circle by combining the personal and the political. The immediacy of her voice increases the emotional resonance of the historical poems by confirming the ongoing personal and generational nature of family accounts.
Sky Country travels an intense emotional spectrum of immigrant experience, from hope to hardship, from pride to shame, and from tragedy to triumph. Kitano's poems visit diverse landscapes
of several generations of immigrant women and men. From poems like "February, 1943: Topaz Concentration Camp, Utah" to "I Will Explain Hope," these poems capture the beauty of the natural world in stark contrast to atrocities against humanity. The natural world is a constant saving grace, holding a deeper cultural meaning among generations of immigrants by refueling hope. In turn, hope feeds the stories that allow immigrants to maintain their dignity and the concept of a new home on a journey embraced by the wonder of nature. The power of nature and culture is captured perfectly in "Fireflies": "My mother would say the fireflies / are the lights of soldiers killed in a war far away, / their spirits now wondering the earth in search of home." By focusing on the voices of displaced women, Kitano proves that the American dream is always evolving, but never more so than for immigrants in America. The collection often explores the life of an insomniac, whose isolation and aloneness within her body can only end in sleep, an act that "we all always do, alone." This focus on the insomniac illuminates the larger theme of the search for human connection, a struggle with loneliness that everyone faces.
As the poems progress over time, getting closer to our contemporary era, we meet working women with broken homes, mothers robbed by divorce, and women who remember themselves differently over time while facing an ever more complicated reality of assimilation. In the modern United States, where being an Americanized woman often means being divorced, abandoned, [End Page 19] overlooked, and overworked, being assimilated means feeling lonely, like everyone else.
Throughout Kitano's Sky Country, the reader meets immigrants in search of home, but the concept of home is constantly changing. In this way, the immigrant experience mirrors the confusion and isolation of all people existing in today's contemporary world. The sky country is always just beyond reach for all, disappearing and getting farther from reality as we approach it. Yet, even as reality erases certain dreams, memory binds immigrants to their homeland, which exists in memory, since so "much depends on how / we're willing to remember."
In Sky Country, the very act of remembering is called into question and can never be...