Mental Comittment Robots (published by Portable Press at Yo-Yo Labs, 2007)).
Juliette’s reading was wonderful and inspiring in her use of language, choice of metaphor, and provocative take on her subjects. She first read poems from That Gorgeous Feeling, which examine (in part) how Asian Americans are represented in the media. Opening stanza of her poem dedicated to Margaret Cho:
korea may be gay but I do not believe that you are./
korea is a peninsula. You and I are people meaning that/
we have hair we comb and things to look at. our lips/
pout and take on the fullness of an adopted meaning.
In her poem/ode to Congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose), Juliette takes a similarly playful tone:
Go, Mike, Go
“When you dash past, it could be I lose color./ Take this cup from me, I insist.”
And in her poem to Daniel Dae Kim, she describes him as:
a perfect symmetry
of both parts animal, feline and quizzical, and man
Underground National is more overtly political, examining the way nations are formed and deformed (in the case of North Korea) by geopolitical forces. Juliette juxtaposed various maps of Korea—-high-tech, ancient, satellite images, etc.—-as she read her poems, which often took as their point of departure actual news articles, briefing papers about North Korea, academic textbooks, and even dictionary entries. But the way that Juliette incorporates these found texts to subvert their original meanings and explore the way “history collides with human memory” (as her publisher’s website describes the book) is uniquely her own.
Finally she read one excerpt from her chapbook Mental Commitment Robots, in which she says she wanted to examine alternate states of consciousness. For example she said her poem, entitled “I am a hammerhead shark. I make no sound,” is a metaphorical way of examining how race is constructed in society: sharklike, always moving, carnivorous.
As a video of swimming sharks played on a giant screen in the background, Juliette read:
An alternative to an agreement is squeeze, applying accupressure to cartilaginoid joints that give under semantic duress. Pursue me across numerous divides, over chasms of understatement now clothed in subtextual, “common sense” racination. First I am blue and then a movement, a future in a song remanded to the stomach, a pair of milky eyes that refuse to triangulate, a stereoscopic ocean floor.”
Juliette is one of my favorite contemporary poets. As poet Tim Yu has written about her work, “Her poems move effortlessly from lyric solemnity to giddy play, resonating with the influences of Gertrude Stein, John Yau, and kung-fu movies.” I would add Korean American poet Theresa Hak Kyung Cha to that list of influences although Juliette is clearly her own voice and her own person, imitative of no one.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to read more of Juliette’s work, I highly recommend all three books!