• Dialogue

The Poetry Foundation

# We invited contributors from the April “Exophony” issue to tell us the story—or a story—about learning the language that they’ve adopted for poetry (in 100 words or fewer). Here are their responses. Check the Editors Blog in the weeks that follow for responses to two additional prompts.

Suphil Lee Park
One second-language
writer sings herself to pain
in the head / the ass:

Four for’s are sitting
in my foyer, waiting for …
Which for? And what for?

It is this that is,
not that that is not, and this
which is not that, is,


The Account

I’ve always found it hard to agree with many who like to say the most important qualities of a poem are essentially sonic. I believe I feel this way because I’m Korean AND a bilingual writer. I have that hard-headed bias as a native reader and writer of the Korean language that has evolved from centuries of such complicated history; unlike the Japanese who have fully integrated Chinese characters into their own language, we invented our own unique alphabet while still carrying over most of the words that consist of Chinese characters from the last century. For example, the sun in Korean is 해. Other words in Korean, such as “year” and “harm,” even some phrases like “will do,” “do this,” “should I do this?” spell and sound exactly the same (except some subtle differences in intonation when it’s used as a phrase); the meaning of the word, therefore, depends entirely on the context . . .

The Massachusetts Review

Q. Tell us about one of the first pieces you wrote.
A series of singsongy part-quartets about an abandoned bicycle that I jotted down in a music composition notebook, that could have been, and might have worked better as, a simple haiku.

Q. What writer(s) or works have influenced the way you write now?
I tend to read senselessly and impulsively, and am quick to relent what I’ve read to my awful long-term memory, so I always find it difficult to extrapolate which individual writers or particular work might have contributed to my own aesthetics. But no one’s ever stunned me more than Virginia Woolf did when I first read To the Lighthouse. She was the first to make me realize that writing can be both recklessly liberating and breathlessly probing at the same time . . .

The Southeast Review

About the Work February 2021

From their group-minded behavior to their pilfering habits in the early spring, bees are such arcane little insects with lots of gut, sometimes literally, when they sting. In short, bees are exemplary of mother nature’s governing principle by which every species evolves towards improvement: we’re to bring together and retain whatever traits, however seemingly incompatible, to ensure the continuance of our species. Bees’ way of seeing, migrant behavior, aversion, sense of community, what looks to be a sacrificial defense tactic, what they covet, even their rough form of democracy, and their bizarre and exclusive mating rituals in stark contrast with their largely asexual population—all these rich, meticulous, and even seemingly contradictory details of their being rule and keep the world of bees prospering, as if their genetics are almost sentient themselves and keenly aware of the future of the entire species continuing indefinitely beyond the present . . .

The Missouri Review

Poem of the Week May 14 2020

“Friend, Whatever You’re Thinking” came out of a late-night, drunk conversation with a friend of mine, Yuki Tanaka, who is a wonderful poet. In our most honest, vulnerable moments of friendship, conversations tend to revolve around the old disappointments that linger in the back of our mind. What began as a rather empathetic poem, however, quickly transformed into a contemplation on the imperfections, irony, and unwavering cycle of life, and a celebration of it. Life seems to be an act of wading through so many could-have-beens and might-have-beens past a certain point, and especially the imaginative minds seem to be in the habit of readily allowing it. But it never ceases to amaze me how life continues on, warped as it might be by disappointment and dread, driven always by hope . . .

The Malahat Review

Winter 2020: Issue #209

Iain: I really enjoyed reading your poem, “After Her Mother’s Funeral Mother Calls Me into the Kitchen.” One of the first things that struck me in reading it was how the poem surprises the reader, quietly at first (“soft as eels bathing in whiskey”), then increasingly openly (“prying apart my lungs”). The title suggests some sort of revelation to come—maybe of a dark family secret, maybe of a new expression of a mother’s love in the face of her loss—but what a reader gets is something entirely unexpected, a viscerally shocking scene that is not for the faint of heart or the queasy-stomached. Is this poetics of unexpectedness — even of surprise — characteristic of your work generally, or were you attempting something new here?

To answer it simply, yes. You’ll find aesthetics—or elements—of surprise typical of my work. My mind tends to wander a lot when working on a poem, and usually ends up in unexpected, often dark places. Even a poem like “After Her Mother’s Funeral Mother Calls Me into the Kitchen,” which is among my most personal poems, veers far from its origin in the end . . .

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