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Green Integer Series No.: 184
ISBN: 978-1-55713-415-8, Pages: 62
In a set form of three stanzas of five lines each per page, Ross has created in his 12th book of a poetry a dynamic interchange with words themselves. Perhaps never since the great Bard of Avon has a poet in English employed such a large number of word combinations as Ross has in wordlick, encouraging the reader literally to pucker his lips and read across each line as if he had unknowingly entered some literary marathon. The good reader obviously will become, at times, winded:
Speechouting legpull gripe on sleepmaven torn
Rosepushing soilworth of Yalta spread
But by race's end, despite all the political and social upheaval he has explored, the reader will find himself -- even after doubling back to explore the truth of each phrase and glimpsing that truth in the mirror of one's own being -- taking flight on "musicwing," the last word of this work.
Like many of his previous books, all of which have received considerable attention by both international poetry communities and critics, Ross takes his readers on a voyage through meaning, and in this work it is a jargon-spouting, ad-lingo, legalistic-nonsense, neopolitical doublespeak that we must face to get to any truth. The amazing thing is that the poet not only finishes the race but restores the world to all its wonder.
WORDS WITHOUT BORDER, 2015
by John Zeiser
"Lee Si-young's 'Patterns'"
A writing professor of mine once admonished my class for praising a story simply because it jibed with our personal understanding of an experience or thing: in the case of the workshop, a student's short story about an Alzheimer's patient. Instead, my professor argued that fiction is effective when it makes us believe, regardless of or even in spite of its resonance with personal experience. Such advice obliges me to acknowledge my own bias, hopelessly intertwined with my reading of Korean poet Lee Si-young's Patterns. Having had the fortune of two fruitful years in Seoul, South Korea, I have strong memories of both city and country, and at times while reading Patterns I couldn't help thinking, yes, this is exactly how this looked, smelled, sounded, or seemed; ergo this poetry is good. I chuckled at his wry observations on Korean idiosyncrasies and shared in his depression about the peninsula's continued division. However, I would like to think that Lee's poetry, aided by limpid translations from Brother Anthony and Yoo Hui-sok, would have struck me even if I had never stepped foot in South Korea.
The selections in Patterns span more than thirty years, beginning with 1976's Manweol (Full Moon), and provide a careful outline of Lee's development as a poet. From the outset, his style is deceptively simple. Lee's poetry is influenced by the tightness of sijo, a traditional Korean poetic form marked by simple diction, aphorisms, and sudden line endings. The language is often serene, and bound to nature. The whole of the title poem "Patterns" reads:
Leaves gently fall from trees onto sidewalks.
Once someone tried to follow the leaves' shadows.
But what seem like small, self-contained lyrics often cut much deeper. Take for example the short prose poem "On an Escalator":
I have never before seen so many lively living creatures transformed in a flash into death's complexion.
The image in the poem is beautifully unsettling, and embodies Lee's tranquil gaze, disturbed by the crushing speed of modern life.
It's refreshing to encounter poems both lyrical and political. When poetry addresses significant, worldly issues, it risks being elliptical or ham-fisted, which distracts from the purely artistic merit of a poem. Lee, however, navigates these pitfalls adeptly. Concerns about capital, hypermodernity, the erosion of ancient traditions, and his country's division are all fitted neatly into Lee's natural, lyrical style.
Korean culture, with its orthodox Confucianism, is bound to family and place, which are often one and the same. But modernity has displaced many Koreans from their ancestral homes, much as it has displaced other traditions. Lee is especially adept at using family as a means to understand larger cultural anxieties that have been so pressing over the course of his life. In particular, it's his mother's biography and his relationship with her that stand as a microcosm for societal anxieties. In "Mother", published in 1986, Lee addresses what Korea is leaving behind by examining what he literally leaves behind every morning:
but once your son and his wife have rushed off to work wearing glasses
your day's only work is to take your grand-daughter
to kindergarten, holding her by the wrist.
His mother's life was not easy (colonial rule, two wars, and a life of farming), yet Lee also finds the rhythm of it, a repetitive contentment that accompanied the seasons:
When the rice sprouted in the plains you'd hum songs you'd picked up
in the factory, dig fields, do all kinds of work
like a manual laborer coming home with the moon high above
After all she had been through, Lee wonders, "How could you imagine you'd end here, cooped up like a bird/ in a cage at
WORLD LITERATURE TODAY, May 2015
by Dan Disney
This hefty pocketbook, Patterns, spans and selects from Lee Si-young's ten previous collections and maps the career of a wandering humanist actively making sense amid the flux and chaos of competing, shifting ideologies (from colonization, civil war, and military dictatorship to industrialization, then rampant neoliberalism). Born in 1949, a year before the Korean War, Lee scans an increasingly unrecognizable homeland; his poems are often ironic, humorous bucolics seeking to stabilize sites too quickly disappearing or disappeared. As his translators assert, he is "an intimate seer" and pliant-minded cosmopolitan participating "in the cosmic task" of glimpsing, naming, and perhaps purifying a particular and situated dialect.
Indeed, this is a poet prepared to stand up for values "squandered in the course of modern Korean history." Lee undertakes an encompassing flânerie, exploring places where "gun-smoke never clears"; we see curfews, underground interrogation rooms, and police approaching civilian protesters "as enemies"; comradely magpies nestle beside blue-skulled monks, and laden trucks veer dangerously along riverside highways; in downtown Seoul, a "63-story building" shines its "dazzling gold," while villages vanish under fog and then suburbia; fifty years after liberation, the poet wonders how to live in a place where "lilac grows in lands where human flesh is food."
In the book's eponymous aphorism, we understand the enormity of Lee's quest: "Leaves gently fall from trees onto sidewalks. / Once someone tried to follow the leaves' shadows." Is the poem an ode? An elegy? A confession? So often this poet's excursions burst through historical spaces to momentarily peer into magnitudes; so many of the poems in Patterns deepen particular apprehensions toward virtuosic resonance, which Lee hopes will enter his readers: "Like a spark, / no, like a first whole-hearted uttering of love."
One senses this is not a libidinous poetics of eros, though, but the purview and philia of ethical enactment. In older places of "scrap-merchants, taffy-vendors, junk sellers, / day-laborers," we see communities mobilized and swarming, often displaced and looking for connection, for ways into the surefootedness of well-being. Sometimes grim, always astonishing, Lee's poems are three-dimensional expressive snapshots; his meditative reflections act as desperate ontological encounters that never lose sight of either humans or their hegemonies.
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