(1913 Press, 2016)
Mia You has begun her career by proving lyricism’s relentless relevance: its equivocity undercuts this regime’s violent surfeit of obsolescence. What feels artless in these poems, and so entirely of the present—Baudelairean, if you will—results from You’s alternately scathing and celebratory re-assessment of predecessors alongside her sure grasp of all the formal strategies and rhetorical figures that constitute poetry as an art. She reanimates the form-of-life which is a poem with a feminist skepticism without foreclosing her robustly idealist commitment to poetry’s continuance:
is what I chose when I chose
to live through poetry
to live it or not to live at all
she states in the opening poem, “Thirty, the Party’s Over.” In this poem, composed as a series of annotations on You’s translation of the Korean poet Choe Young-mi, the anecdotal process has opened to an elastic, angry, self-ironical and sometimes unabashedly sentimental voice that establishes the combined amplitude and urgency of address in the thirteen poem-sequences that follow. That the gently derided “small drama of my suburban-middle-class-Korean-American life / makes poetry” aligns You’s documentary project with mentors such as Mayer, Rankine, and Hejinian, and younger contemporaries such as Susan Briante: maternity, birth, inheritance, domestic finances, and the racialization of quotidian life are at the core of these poems. Yet here documentary can quickly cut to pastiche, then next to an exhilarating lyricism. Near the end of the volume, her “History of Art” is one of the most beautiful poems I have read.
We need not think it com
promise to accept the promises of
time and craft. There is this moment
life gives way to art, and we can only know
that it is past.