Arlene Kim is the author of What have you done to our ears to make us hear echoes?. Her poetry has appeared in Switched-on Gutenberg, Cha, and DIAGRAM. Kim earned her MFA in poetry from the University of Minnesota, where her work won the 2007 Academy of American Poets’ James Wright Prize. She is an associate poetry editor for the DMQ Review.
"Turn to the first poem, and you've entered a surreal fantasy world where fairy tales are dangerous and twisted ... in the end, that's what makes it so darkly delightful."
"Kim's book details a crisis of the spirit: moving from country to country ... Underlying this narrative, Kim's use of rhyme, syllabics, prose poems, and white space on the page make a compelling read more captivating. This is a collection not to be missed."
"Kim not only uses a wide range of mythological, literary and technological sources, she accesses a full arsenal of poet's tools . . . These are poems to whisper alone in a tent by flashlight, delighting in the whistles and pops of words that tear at your heart."
There is bad in the wood
(this is where children get lost
Morsels of dialogue appear scattered in sections of What have you done to our ears to make us hear echoes?. A path that poet Arlene Kim marks in the undergrowth. The echo of warnings. Crumbs to follow when we're lost and found and lost again in the woods.
What lies ahead are birds who cannot be trusted, “camps of teeth,” and trees who whisper to the handle of the ax, “you're one of us.” These woods of migration, of Korea, of war “when all the Mothers left,” of making and unmaking family.
Borrowing from Korean folktales and traditions and the work of Keats, Akhmatova and Celan, Kim tells us stories of heartache, abandonment and dismemberment. She inhabits the voices of Daughter, Sister, Turtle, Chorus, among others, who are, at times, one in the same. In the woods, these voices warn and give directions. They question lineage and mourn the echoes of its absence. In “Season of Frogs,” the Chorus gives a dirge:
At night we sing all our questions to the trees:
Who widowed the mothers? Who ate up the husbands? Who
with just this crippling cry?
More things than hawks can steal.
Why did you leave us, Mother? Why did you not try harder
the song of you
firmly to our tongues?
Daughter/Sister/Girl attach and cleave pieces of the dismembered body in order to remember (and forget) her family, country and history. The “single long braid” is a “partial cutting, imperfect collection.” From “Exhibit A: Archive”:
Mother lent us her hair for exhibit. It grew the same on us,
her clutch, her collection. Oh, we must not cut it,
the rope to her, the inherited line.
But that was an ancient time. She says
we must now forget it, untie ourselves. Only knots remain—she
ties and unties them every evening.
As we collect the remnants of family and fate, “bees and rag-winged dragonflies,” the splinters of the woods, Arlene Kim hands us a blade. To cut ourselves “out from the belly of home.”