Sunday 6 July 2014

Cathy Park Hong's Engine Empire (Norton, 2012), first selection

I heard Cathy Park Hong read in Seattle during the AWP conference, and in my journal I wrote exclamation marks next to her name. After the event, I told her how much I enjoyed her work, but as her books weren't on sale at the event, I kept her name in my mind for later reference. 

Last Wednesday, I traveled to London to my first meeting since being elected to NAWE's (the National Association of Writers in Education) Higher Education Committee, and as it ended early and was near the British Museum, I found myself in the wonderful London Review Bookshop's poetry section, and there it was--Hong's latest book, Engine Empire. The first section is a narrative largely in ballads, titled "Ballad of Our Jim"; here are some favourite passages.

Day's gone immortal.

The bleached ruin of light lasts and lasts, no night
to repair our minds, no white clip moon to give us rest,
Only pitiless noon where our sleep-starved consciousness 
patters faintly behind our squinted eyelids. 

from "Ballad of Tombstone Omaha"

We stop speaking. Our lips curl back so we're just teeth.
Our Jim sings as if all his body's reed.
No thought flickers behind his linseed eyes.

from "Ballad Beyond the Forts"

We shuck our boots near an alkali pond
where no fish breathes its poison, only white alien worms
float like dander from a sunken
corpse turned angel.

from "Ballad of Arrival with Hatajo of Mules"

We scream: Do it, boy! Shoot!
He aims cold, slays them all, 
exciting us no end.
He says: I'm done finishing your games. 

end of "Ballad of the Rube Parade
with Their Quiver of Spades"

Jim sings: I'm tiring, I'm tiring.

His grim instinct wilting.
Dispiriting Jim, climbing hill's hilt,
drifting Jim, sighing in this lilting,
sinking light.

end of "Ballad in I"

He rides into a shadowed plain,
where a storm of grasshoppers
hoving wings to wind,
black the sky thick as larrup. 

beginning of "The Song of Katydids"

No comments:

Post a Comment