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Translating Mo'Um Paperback – March 1, 2002

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In 27 rough, yet tightly focused lyrics and narratives, Cathy Park Hong is Translating Mo'um i.e., interpreting for mom, that bane of the first generation, yet also bringing her into her own work. A Korean-American from Los Angeles and Brooklyn now attending the Iowa Writers' Workshop, Hong effortlessly reduces stereotypes to phonetic rubble: "Korean characters, like stiff phonetic Legos, wait to join with one another while St. Jerome writes with his single eyelash quill in his painfully exact studio." Whether issuing an "Assiduous Rant" or exploring the multilingual possibilities of forms of "Androgenous Pronoun," Hong delivers "the hissing world, cold rain, and a tale that burned in its preamble."
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 74 pages
  • Publisher: Hanging Loose Press; 1St Edition edition (March 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1931236119
  • ISBN-13: 978-1931236119
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,099,165 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Pelin Ariner on May 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
Collage, distortion, disjunction. Hong uses these techniques to present a pieced together body, an account of the immigrant experience through lenses of the grotesque. Translating Mo'um is a challenging collection of poems that maintain their reader's interest with moments of startling honesty and clarity, as the author translates, narrates and does battle with the traditions and histories she has inherited from her Korean background and the dictates of contemporary America where she lives. Hong's poetry is driven by passion, "Restraint turns passion into shame. Or worse, martyrs. My mother comes/from a country of martyrs, a (craze) of martyrs, a crateful of martyrs" and irreverence "Body electric my tantric ass".

Central to her approach is an interest in and identification with the grotesque, with "freaks" and the idea of spectacle from the inside and the outside, as something that is inhabited and observed. "Fragments of freaks: the Hottentot's ass,/the Siamese twins' toupee, the indecisive gap/who said I do. Later, no forget it, I don't." There are poems about the first Siamese twins, Change and Eng, and about the Venus Hottentot. The otherness that these subjects represent is akin to the experience of being an immigrant in a hostile culture, but Hong also reveals an association born of personal history in The Shameful Show of Tono Maria: "Still mute, I was sent to Special Ed/ with autistics, paraplegics, and a boy/who only ate dirt".

Themes of muteness, difficulty of speech weave throughout the collection. Hong mines the tension between words and body, exploring the embodiment of language and the linguistics of the body.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By not a poet on February 15, 2005
Format: Paperback
Do not expect a book on identity where chow mein + spaghetti = Asian American and everyone's tra-la-la happy. There is no such heartwarming treacle here.

Often, with so called Asian American literature, the critics opt for the easy reading, proclaim the text to be about "maintaining one's traditions," and "identity," then close the book. Mission accomplished. True, the book deals with these issues, and to a reader who fails to take a closer look, Translating Mo'um might seem familiar, monotonous, droning.

Instead of the either/or (either exclusively Asian or American) or the indefensibly simple-minded Asian + American = Asian American (yay!) perspectives, Ms. Hong writes from the Neither/Nor stance, neither Asian nor so-called American.

ski: poem

kkatchi: magpie

ayi: child

Here, there is always something lost in translation, in that "labor of crossing." Ms. Hong writes from that negative space in between. Note the epigraph by Theresa Hak Kyung Cha: "She mimics the speaking. That might resemble speech." That loss of agency where "the word / speaks / without you"

Before this turns into an academic paper, I'll just mention the book's preoccupation with the grotesque body, "...a body in the act of becoming." The quote is Bakhtin's and the idea is a keystone figure. To talk about desire in this book is to talk about the grotesque, and vice versa, which generates the nexus from which Ms. Hong discusses sexual repression, image control, and considers the question of where the power of speech as an act resides. Who decides what is grotesque, exotic, impossible, or desirable, and by what means?

As the context of Asian American life changes, so does the conditions of its problems.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Tuor on February 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
Cathy Hong's first book launches the reader into the shadowy boundaries of Asian-American identity. In many poems we get what seems to be autobiographical material that insists on its own aesthetic tint, miles and miles from more familiar confessional ground. A half-formed idea of the poet is constantly disrupted by blurred grammar, startling imagery, and jumps into the lives of other non-Euro-Americans (although those poems that primarily address these lives, "Ontology of Chang and Eng, the Original Siamese Twins" "Hottentot Venus" and "The Shameful Show of Tono Maria" make up the weakest writing in the collection), especially Asians, especially her mother. The effect is one of shift, not so much a multifaceted view of the bicultural experience as a multifogged one. Confusion in Hong's hands is not amateurish, however, but precisely controlled; one's sense of drifting between languages and multiply layered perspectives is palpable.

Technically, Hong demonstrates quite a palette. Almost nothing she writes escapes a surreal twist: "I grew a petri dish of princes, all replicating and jostling each oher for my hand" "winds / sprouted like weeds, while we sucked juice / from matronly oranges" "never the opaque doll but the battery that ran it" "We barely knew each other yet he confessed to me until his face clattered off like a hubcap." She's capable of a fluid music as well: "Palpitation, cyst, polyp: skin licked, / tongue pioneers among topographic pulp."

I could find no moment that threatened sentimentality, although many times I was left without an emotional response to the material - just a cerebral appreciation of her syntactic or imagistic manipulation.
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