We’re absolutely thrilled, in this new issue of Guernica, to showcase the work of Kim Hyesoon, a singular feminist South Korean poet; the translations by Don Mee Choi and Jack Jung; and the art of Fi Jae Lee. In fact, “showcase” feels like too weak a word for the force of what emerged from serendipitous collaboration, the kind borne of having just the right people in just the right conversation at just the right time. Bringing these titans together in our pages feels like an event.
I first encountered Thus Spoke n’t when Jack Jung tweeted about it. Jack was kind enough to send a few pages for us to consider, and reading them, I was jolted alive. I couldn’t remember the last time I read anything so gripped by urgency, vision, and voice — a testament not only to the legendary talents of the poet, but to their match in translation. It’s impossible not to appreciate the challenge of this translation, for the original work embodies the kind of genre-bending for which the American literary marketplace is ill-prepared. “Essay” or “nonfiction” are categorically incorrect here. “Lyric essay” might do, but really, we are pushed by Kim into new English: Jung uses “poem-prose,” or “po-prose,” or (my personal favorite) “nonpoem” and its Korean counterpart, shisanmun.
We pair this original excerpt from Jung’s translation of Thus Spoke n’t with one of Kim’s poems, translated by longtime collaborator Don Mee Choi. “Portrait of Fear” comes from their new collection, Phantom Pain Wings, recently released by New Directions. Choi is a literary tour de force — a MacArthur Fellow, Guggenheim and Lannan Fellow; a winner of the National Book Award, the Whiting Award, the International Griffin Poetry Prize (with Kim, for a translation) — and Kim’s longtime English translator. And we’re thrilled to illustrate this informal folio with art by Fi Jae Lee, whose visual vocabulary Kim’s readers will instantly recognize.
Of course, none of these writers are new to to you, our reading community. You might remember Don Mee Choi’s poem, “Hydrangea Agenda”; or our review of Jack Jung and Don Mee Choi’s translation of the monumental Korean writer, Yi Sang; or our interview, more than a decade ago, with Kim Hyesoon. And you might not realize it, but you also know the creative spirit at the center of this collaboration: Cindy Juyoung Ok, one of our two brilliant poetry editors and herself a thoughtful translator of Kim’s work.
We’re pushing our usual edges of form and voice across the magazine this month, with experimental poems from Mag Gabbert and George Abraham, and an essay from Gyasi Hall, one of the boldest, most original voices we’ve published in nonfiction recently. “It’s Not Like I Even Wanna Talk about How I’m the Only Black Person Watching Clerks III” is, in our estimate, everything anyone ever wanted to read about Clerks III (or, for that matter, the other two).
We have original fiction from Michel Bulteau, translated by Austyn Wohlers, and Meghan Gilliss. We have a stirring Guernica Global Spotlights short story, “To Be in a State of War,” that comes to us from the Beirut literary magazine Rusted Radishes. And because the epoch of summer reading lists is upon us, we’ve packed this issue with extra Cutting Room “excerpts,” highlighting new books coming this month from Beth Nguyen, Donovan X. Ramsay, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, and Ruth Madievsky. We also have a “bonus” short story for you — an unforgettable story from Jamel Brinkley’s new collection, Witness, which publishes next month. We’re thrilled to share this exclusive excerpt, and we hope you’ll add all these wonderful and worthy books to your summer reading pile.
Thank you for being here.
— Jina Moore Ngarambe for Guernica